Page last updated at 01:12 GMT, Tuesday, 29 September 2009 02:12 UK

IPCC to investigate family deaths

Fiona Pilkington (l) and daughter Francecca Hardwick
Fiona Pilkington killed herself and her daughter Francecca Hardwick

The Independent Police Complaints Commission is to investigate why more was not done to protect a mother and her disabled daughter from abuse.

Fiona Pilkington, 38, committed suicide and unlawfully killed her daughter Francecca Hardwick, 18 after repeatedly asking for help, an inquest jury ruled.

The jury said Leicestershire police and two councils were partly to blame.

The inquest heard the family had endured years of abuse at the hands of neighbours in Barwell, Leicestershire.

The police were called 33 times in seven years as Ms Pilkington and her daughter were subjected to abuse, vandalism and even violence by local youths.

IPCC Commissioner Amerdeep Somal said it was "an extremely distressing case".

She added: "It appears to be a case where sustained anti-social behaviour in a neighbourhood over a period of several years has contributed to a truly horrific and tragic outcome."

She said the IPCC would be examining "how seriously the police responded to her calls for help, whether the action was appropriate and what actions they did or did not take".

It's an exception but it's something that should never have happened and I think everyone feels for the despair that Fiona Pilkington must have been suffering
Alan Johnson, home secretary

Home Secretary Alan Johnson said the police and councils had "some hard lessons" to learn.

He said: "This is a tragedy. It's an exception but it's something that should never have happened and I think everyone feels for the despair that Fiona Pilkington must have been suffering.

"What we have to do is ensure there's no excuses, ensure that the lessons are learned and I'm sure Leicestershire police are already learning those lessons - this happened in 2007 - and we use this terrible tragedy to ensure we do not tolerate anti-social behaviour - we tackle it."

The inquest at Loughborough Town Hall heard that Ms Pilkington, her disabled daughter and her son, Anthony, a severe dyslexic, suffered more than 10 years of abuse from a gang of teenagers living on their street.

Ms Pilkington is believed to have poured the contents of a 10-litre can of petrol over clothes in the back seat of the car, and set them alight.

The jury found that Ms Pilkington killed herself and her daughter "due to the stress and anxiety regarding her daughter's future, and ongoing anti-social behaviour".

The jury foreman said the police's response had had an impact on Ms Pilkington's decision to unlawfully kill her daughter and commit suicide.

He added: "Calls were not linked or prioritised."

Alan Johnson says there must be 'no excuses' and that lessons must be learned

The jury also highlighted lack of action by Hinckley and Bosworth Borough Council and Leicestershire County Council.

Relatives described how Ms Pilkington had complained for years about youths "taunting and abusing" her at her home, but six months before her death had told them "I give up".

Temporary Chief Constable Chris Eyre of Leicestershire Police said he was "extremely sorry" the police had failed to help Ms Pilkington and her daughter.

Mark Goldring, Mencap's chief executive, said people with learning disabilities needed protection from becoming victims of abuse and torture.

He said: "These horrific deaths are yet another tragic example of how a vulnerable young person with a learning disability, and her family, have been completely betrayed by the authorities responsible for their care.

"Mencap believes this should be the watershed moment for disability hate crime, when the government and the police treat all disability hate crime as seriously as racist hate crime.

"If this does not happen, the 1.5m people with a learning disability will continue to be victims of abuse and torture."

Pam Cassell and Simon Hardwick (right) Pam Cassell, mother of Fiona Pilkington and Simon Hardwick (right), Fiona Pilkington"s ex-husband
Ms Pilkington's family said it had been a 'terrible time'

Speaking on behalf of her family, Pam and David Cassell, Fiona's parents and Frankie's grandparents, said: "This has been a terrible time for us and we wouldn't have managed without the love and support from our friends and family.

"This case has highlighted the difficulties that families with disabled children face. We know that the agencies involved have looked to see how they can improve the way they work."

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Gordon Brown is expected to announce a crackdown on anti-social behaviour in his keynote speech to the Labour Party conference.

As part of a wider package of crime measures, he will announce moves to combat "problem families" he says are causing misery in communities with a fourfold increase in the use of Family Intervention Projects.

These are binding contracts which require parents of children guilty of anti-social behaviour to accept one-to-one support or lose their benefits.

Leicestershire police: 'We are extremely sorry'

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