On Tuesday 2 April 2013, Mick and Mairead Philpott and their friend Paul Mosley were convicted of the manslaughter of six children by setting fire to their house.
The background to the story can be found here (BBC).
The essence is that Mick and Mairead Philpott and their friend Paul Mosely hatched a plan to set fire to their house in an attempt to frame his live-in mistress, Lisa Willis. The prosecution case was that the motivation for seeking to frame Lisa Willis was that the ‘crime’ would help turn family law proceedings in relation to their children in Mick Philpott’s favour.
Five of the six children died on the morning of the fire and the sixth died three days later. The children were: Jade Philpott, 10, John, nine, Jack, eight, Jesse, six, and Jayden, five. Duwayne, 13, was Mairead Philpott’s son from a previous relationship.
The fire was far bigger than was anticipated and took hold of the house very quickly.
The court heard that Mick Philpott had a ‘violent past’, with a conviction for the attempted murder of a former girlfriend in 1987.
Manslaughter is divided into two: a) voluntary manslaughter and b) involuntary manslaughter. The former occurs when there is an intention to kill but a defence is present which reduces the conviction from murder to manslaughter. An example would be loss of control.
The latter, which is the case here, is where there is an absence of an intention to kill. Apart from the absence of the requisite intent, all other elements of the offence are the same as for murder.
There are two types of involuntary manslaughter, namely:
- that caused by the defendant’s gross negligence; and
- that caused by his unlawful or dangerous act.
It appears that in this case, this is ‘unlawful act’ manslaughter, with the act being arson.
Mick Philpott and Paul Mosley were found guilty by unanimous verdicts. Mairead Philpott was convicted by a majority after an 8 week trial.
Mrs Justice Thirlwall said that the three would be sentenced on Wednesday.
Of course, no sentence of a court can properly reflect that a life – and such young lives at that – have been lost. Sentences must however reflect that fact that six children have died (for example, a careless driving sentence will be increased to reflect the loss of life, where the driving is equally culpable).
So, what is the likely sentence? Well that is a difficult question. Firstly because manslaughter comprises the widest range of sentences of any offence before the courts – from a conditional discharge to life imprisonment. Sentences must reflect the particular facts of the case and because of the innumerable ways in which a manslaughter offence can be committed, the phrase ‘sentences are fact specific’ applies here more than ever. Secondly, although the case has received a great deal of press coverage, without being in court all day everyday, it is very difficult to get a good sense of the true nature of a case such as this.
What is certainly relevant is the motive for setting fire to the house. It may be necessary to examine whether the defendants satisfy the dangerousness provisions – requiring an extended sentence or life sentence.
The sentences will undoubtedly be lengthy.
It may be of interest to know that had the three been convicted of murder, the starting point would have been a whole life tariff.