Fiona and Francecca Pilkington – A Tragedy Remembered Eight Years OnWritten by Matteo Sedazzari
A severe action, you’ll agree, but clearly Fiona Pilkington had been pushed to the point of despair, and saw the drastic deed of suicide as her only recourse. By all accounts she was not in debt, nor recently mourning a lost loved one, and nor had she lost her job. Yet clearly on this day, she simply was not in control of her faculties. Any parent reading this would question how on earth could a mother take her own life, and kill her only daughter in the process?
The Pilkingtons, over a long ten year period, faced abuse and harassment from the local youths who lived on the Barwell Estate, which is by no means a slum, with well maintained housing and a reasonable level of employment. However this rather tranquil setting proved to be a living hell for Ms Pilkington and her family. After marrying Simon Hardwick in 1988, they moved to the Barwell in the early 90s, but they soon divorced and Fiona Hardwick reverted to her mother’s maiden name.
Apparently the trouble began when her slightly disabled son Anthony, then 8 years old, fell out with some of his peers on the estate. A fall out that would ultimately prove to have fatal consequences. Like many arguments in life, they can escalate to something much more brutal and violent, a dislike fermenting into hatred over many years. The fateful fall out served as an excuse for the many to cynically bully a family who didn’t have the ability to defend themselves.
The tragedy that happened to the Pilkingtons is so wrong on so many levels. The behaviour of other humans inflicting physical and mental pain on someone less able is unacceptable… and equally unacceptable is the behaviour of the police and the authorities in this case, who despite repeated calls and requests consistently failed to support and protect the family. It appears the residents who witnessed this escalating tragedy were split into two camps, the minority who helped and those who simply pulled their curtains.
A group of rowdy and aggressive youths can be very intimidating, and it’s easier said than done to actually confront them. Sometimes standing up to these youths can have tragic and terrible consequences, like Garry Newlove who was attacked by a gang of teenagers outside his house in Warrington, Cheshire. Newlove believed a gang of youths had vandalised his wife’s car and had it out with them in the street. Inevitably the youths rounded on Garry and attacked him with fatal results. He died from the injuries sustained two days later on the 12th August 2007. Three youths, Swellings, Sorton and Cunliffe were charged and eventually sentenced for his murder. Moreover his wife, Helen Newlove, drew attention to the failure of the police to address local youth unrest and anti-social behaviour. Now, I don’t want to sound like the Daily Mail, so I am not going to rant about the youth of today, because as a teenager the group of friends I associated with were seen as the local trouble makers… silly boys… we were often banned from shops or arrested for minor misdemeanours which seldom resulted in a charge or even a court appearance. Now as an adult, I can see that some of our stupid actions were plain wrong. “OK guv, it’s a fair cop, but society is to blame…”
Or is it?
The real debate here is not the decline or collapse of British society… it’s the dismal failure of the police to see a connection with a whole string of crimes and misdemeanours that is purely astounding. I’m afraid to say there are only two explanations for their inaction and incompetence: plain stupidity and plain laziness… each an abject failure in itself but both combined is totally inexcusable.
Below is a list of some of Fiona Pilkington’s complaints to the police. There are 33 in total over a ten year period.
• October 1997: Ms Pilkington calls police to say her chequebook has been stolen from her car.
• October 2000: Eggs thrown at house. No officers attend the call.
• August 2003: Anthony is punched in the mouth and his tooth chipped.
• January 2004: Youths throw stones and bottles and set fire to gates and fences. No officer attends.
• January 2004: Anthony gets death threats. Police tell Fiona to ring the school.
• June 2004: Yob sits on the family car and "moons" at house. Officer says no offence has been committed.
• July 2004: Anthony is locked in a shed at knifepoint by gang. He has to smash window to escape.
• October 13th 2006: Anthony is pushed into a car, injuring hand. Police arrive eight days later and incident is closed.
• November 2006: Members of the gang start jumping on the family's hedge. Police say no officer is available to attend.
• February 2007: Family cowers at home in fear of gang outside. No officer available.
• March 2007: More vandalism. Community officer takes no action.
• September 2007: Fifth window smashed.
• October 23rd 2007: Girl members of the gang jump on front hedge and mimic the way Francecca walks. Police advise Fiona to draw curtains and ignore abuse.
That very same evening, Fiona takes her own life, killing her daughter in the process.
It wasn’t just Ms Pilkington who contacted the police… her neighbours did and so did her MP David Tredinnick, to whom Fiona had sent one last desperate letter before she died. “I don’t really know how to handle things anymore. How can I protect my teenagers from this sort of abuse? No-one can help. I have had 11 years of misery. My hair is falling out. What do you do? Do you just let them take control of this lovely street? The kids on the street stop everyone living their lives.” Yet despite this, the Police still failed to see any link in the abuse suffered or view the complaints as high priority. If it wasn’t so tragic it would be laughable.
This is not the first time in recent years the police have failed to protect vulnerable people. Single mother Nikki Collen was attacked in her own home by youths, but the police refused to visit as it may “escalate” a neighbour clash. Then there’s the case of David Askew, aged 64 from Hattersley, Greater Manchester. David was a man with learning disabilities who had been suffering been years of abuse and targeted vandalism. He dropped dead from a massive of a heart attack while confronting local youths in 2011 who had smashed his windows and kicked in his front door. A despairing and increasingly incredulous Mr Askew and his family made 88 – yes, 88. – separate, legitimate calls to the police about their harassment, and yes, you guessed it… they failed to see any link. My word, these people certainly ain’t Sherlock Holmes. Fiona Pilkington echoed the same despair and disappointment as the Askews in the diary she kept for the final year of her life. “I have learnt from experience that no one is usually available from Friday to Monday as it is busy elsewhere. This is a low priority.”
Ms Pilkington and her daughter and son were paralysed by fear and confined to their house; they must have felt they were serving a prison sentence, under house arrest even though they were the victims, innocent of any wrong doing. Their suffering at the hands of these bullies would have sent most of us, if not all, headlong into insanity. Four years after their horrendous and avoidable death, there was an Independent Police Complaints Commission report into the Leicestershire Police forces’ handling of the Pilkington affair. Even the then Home Secretary Alan Johnson spoke out and the conclusion was there was a main failure not to identify that the family was vulnerable. Four police officers were disciplined for misconduct, but not sacked, so they still get their pensions and the remaining members of Ms Pilkington’s family (her son Anthony and her parents Pamela and David Cassell) were awarded compensation and an apology from then acting Chief Constable of Leicestershire Police Chris Eyre. Yet not one person, not one bully, thug or vandal from their estate even attended the hearings, let alone arrested, taken to task and prosecuted.
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