Mick Philpott is a nasty little man. An idiot, but a nasty idiot nonetheless. One who will be spending the next 15 years, at least, in prison. I have watched enough crime documentaries in my time to realise that this is no criminal mastermind. And yet the story has received more coverage than any crime of recent times.
In essence, The Philpott media story is of a man, subsidised by the state, who controlled the people in his life for his own ends, with horrific consequences for his own family. That isn’t particularly unusual.
Six children have tragically lost their lives, but that is not what is making the news.
What is making the news is how Mick Philpott spent his life, and how he came by the money that he lived on. The conversation has now shifted to how the popular press are covering how he spent his life and how he came by the money that he lived on.
Once again, just like in the Savile case, politicians and influencers are using the suffering of children as ammunition in their own self-interested battles. Now George Osbourne wants a go.
However those six children remain dead and the discussion is in the wrong place.
Cases like this happen all of the time, and they will continue to happen. Look at how the Daily Mail reported the case of Christopher Foster. He was a millionaire who set fire to his house, killing his wife Jill and daughter Kirstie, because he was in danger of losing his fortune.
Here was a ‘striver’. A man who had worked his way up from nothing to achieve vast riches, a product of the capitalist, entrepreneurial system. And therefore the story is pitched a little differently. We are supposed to feel pity for this man, or at least a deal of understanding.
“The position of his body suggests to Enid and others his motive was one of love – trying to protect Jill from the humiliation of his financial troubles.”
And he actually meant to do it.
“But Foster’s impending financial ruin makes his actions consistent with a man who would sooner murder his own loved ones than endure the shame of penury.”
Not poverty you notice, but the loss of the ridiculously, disproportionately extravagant riches he had been enjoying until that point.
The unifying theme in these two cases, like so many others like them, is one of control. A man’s need to control the the world around him, and particularly the women in his life.
I have no idea what went on inside Philpott’s idiotic little head but I doubt the loss of the £1,000 in benefits that he was losing was the real issue. It was the loss of control over a woman who had the audacity to leave him. It was the need to punish her, a need so strong that he didn’t give his children a second thought. He didn’t want them to die – he just thought that he had control over everything, even fire.
The chances are there will always be people like Christopher Foster and Mick Philpott, just like there will always be men like Savile. It isn’t the welfare system that creates them, or Jeremy Kyle. The world is full of nasty little people.
But actually Philpott would be not be a story without the women in his life, to skivvy for him, to give birth and look after his children. He’d be a loud old man in a pub corner. It was the women who received the majority of the benefits, even though both did also go out to work. Their wages and benefits that they and their children were entitled to, were paid directly to him.
It’s difficult to feel sympathy for Mairead Philpott. Any woman who can put her own children in such mortal danger is difficult to comprehend. Why she would go through with it, why she would cover it up?
It is difficult to understand why a woman would ‘be prepared to go to any lengths, however humiliating, to keep him happy’. This included allowing another woman to share her husband and have his children. It’s very easy for me, as a privileged woman, to say how could you!
However, that is the trouble with controlling and abusive relationships. All of his relationships were abusive, and the judge’s sentencing remarks make for chilling reading. This is a man who had already been in prison for viciously stabbing a partner who left him and who abused every woman he was with. People find it all too easy to sit in judgement, to ask why people didn’t leave, or speak up or complain. The argument goes round in circles. People ask why vulnerable people (usually women) don’t speak up, don’t say no, don’t get out. Then, if they do, no one cares, no one believes them, or they have nowhere to go.
It is no surprise that all the women involved were in their teens when they got involved with Philpott; vulnerable and with few options in life. It’s not an excuse. It’s not to say that, today, standing in the dock, she deserves sympathy. However in countless places around the country, there are teenage girls entering into similar relationships and few of them will end well.
To nick Tom Stoppard, ‘There must have been a moment, when we could have said no, but we missed it”. And we will keep missing it.
If you look around you, there are still high street shops selling T-shirts making light of domestic violence. Look at the Rochdale case, and the ‘lifestyle choices’ young girls were accused of.
One of the largest group suffering in abusive relationships are teenagers and single young people in need of a home receive no help, often with only the Mick Philpotts of this world to turn to.
Young girls listen to Rhianna standing by her man and think that it’s OK. Controlling and abusive men are romanticised into misunderstood heroes.
We still have an education system where your success owes a lot to the sharpness of your parents’ elbows, leaving those with a rough start even worse off. Sure Start centres have been closed down and women’s refuges are full and under funded, leaving abused women and children in dire situations with fewer and fewer choices.
I don’t have the answers, but I know they won’t be found by using the tragic death of six children as an excuse to make people poorer, with fewer choices and opportunities.
In the same week that the Government has cut benefit payments, is discussing cutting the minimum wage, has withdrawn legal aid for those seeking divorce or leaving abusive relationships, it’s probably time we put a stop to powerful men, determined to get their own way, doing irreparable damage to the very people they claim, on television at least, to care for.
Like I said, there’s a lot of them about.