As Mick and Mairead Philpott face life sentences in prison today for starting a fire that killed six of their children, Express & Star reporter Shaun Jepson gives an exclusive insight into life in the dysfunctional family’s home.
I was a very young, trainee reporter when I first met Mick Philpott.
I’d not long landed my first journalism job at the Derby Telegraph and soon after completing my initial reporting qualifications, I was tasked with ‘rebuilding a relationship’ with the man dubbed Shameless Mick after he had decided to no longer speak with the media.
Stepping into the semi-detached council home he shared with his wife, girlfriend and children, I was first struck by the 50-inch TV that dominated the tiny living room.
A children’s TV programme was blaring out and some of the youngsters appeared transfixed by the colours beaming from the gigantic flatscreen.
Those same youngsters hardly left their father alone during my first and only meeting with him. And my first view of Philpott was that he appeared to love his kids.
That is difficult to write, given the revelation of his conviction for killing six of his children at the very house where I met him some six years ago.
But during my only face-to-face conversation with him, he embraced two of his children. His wife, Mairead, also convicted of manslaughter by jurors, and then partner Lisa Willis, let me into the house and led me to the kitchen, where I talked with Philpott.
As I walked through the door, hit by the distinct smell of cigarette smoke, Philpott stood in the doorway of the kitchen, proudly wearing the Derby County football shirt that he only ever seemed to wear.
Mairead and Lisa sat mute-like on the sofa while we chatted, only speaking or moving to tend to the children.
The TV was set to the left of the living room and I recall it being almost as big as the window that sat just behind it. He told me he had been angered at being portrayed as a benefits scrounger by the media following an embarrassing appearance on the Jeremy Kyle show in earlier that year.
Kyle had verbally torn strips off Philpott when he claimed he would have been prepared to divorce his wife, marry Miss Willis, then divorce her simply so that she would not feel left out because she did not share the Philpott family name.
From then on in, the media became fascinated with Philpott and his unconventional lifestyle, particularly following his claims that the country was “going down the pan” because he could not get a bigger home for him and his family.
When I was sent to his house on that first occasion in 2007, the Philpott furore had abated slightly. I had been sent to try and re-establish contact with him.
What I quickly learned was that what Philpott said and did were two very different things. The senior police officer who investigated the tragic fire said Philpott was seemingly obsessed with the media, even in the aftermath of the blaze, adding that he found him to be “overly excited by the prospect of going to face the media given what had taken place and given that he had lost six of his children in that fire”.
True to that character assessment, Philpott continued to speak to me and other reporters after my initial visit and soon after that first meeting, he told me he was going to appear on the documentary Ann Widdecombe Versus the Benefits Culture.
The eight-week trail has unmasked Philpott as a violent, cold-hearted killer who torched his own home along with Mairead and another man in a bid to frame Lisa Willis, the former girlfriend of Philpott.
As I look back at my experiences of speaking to him, I never would have thought that what appeared to be a relatively stable, if unconventional lifestyle would lead to such tragic circumstances, with the deaths of 10-year-old Jade Philpott, and her brothers John, nine, Jack, eight, Jesse, six, Jayden, five, and Duwayne, 13.
Philpott was clearly far from the caring, loving father he wanted the public to believe he was.