Page last updated at 17:42 GMT, Monday, 28 September 2009 18:42 UK

A family 'taunted and tormented'

By Anthony Bartram
BBC News, Leicestershire

Fiona Pilkington and Francecca Hardwick
Fiona Pilkington and her daughter Francecca died in the car

A single mother who set fire to her car in a Leicestershire lay-by, killing herself and her disabled daughter, had been taunted by gangs for 10 years.

Fiona Pilkington drove 18-year-old Francecca 'Frankie' Hardwick to a lay-by on the A47 and poured petrol on the back seat.

An inquest at Loughborough Town Hall heard 38-year-old Ms Pilkington had repeatedly complained to the police after being targeted by local gangs of youths for 10 years.

Ms Pilkington was a full-time carer for her disabled daughter, who was becoming increasingly difficult to look after as she got older, the inquest heard.

Her son Anthony Hardwick, now 19, is severely dyslexic and had also been targeted by the gang.

Two years after their deaths in October 2007 her family told the inquest that her death was "a final act of desperation" after she could no longer endure the torment.

She was in despair really, nobody did anything and she was just frustrated
Grandmother Pam Cassell

They had been constantly taunted by groups of up to 16 youngsters. Stones, eggs and flour were regularly thrown at the family home in Barwell.

Francecca's grandmother Pam Cassell, 72, said her daughter had taped up her letter box the week before she died, fearing that fireworks would be thrown through it.

Mrs Cassell spoke of one ordeal endured by the family.

"It was Halloween and firework night was coming up. Fiona was dreading them because she knew the children would start throwing things at the house and start putting fireworks through the letterbox."

Scene of the discovery of bodies in a car on the A47
The bodies were discovered in a car in a layby on the A47

She added: "Frankie was frustrated because she couldn't go out in the garden without being tormented or teased.

"We would take her to the park and take her out in the rain because she used to love jumping in puddles.

"Frankie could be genuinely loveable but when she was frustrated she used to pull hair and bite and punch because she couldn't do what she wanted to do."

Coroner Olivia Davison heard about an incident when Anthony was put into a shed at knifepoint.

But despite dozens of calls to police and Hinkley and Bosworth Borough Council, little was done to help the family.

Mrs Cassell said at one point the council imposed a 300-yard exclusion zone around the house in an attempt to stop the youths, but failed to enforce it.

She said her daughter contacted the council four or five times and phoned police at least ten times a year asking for help.

She said the school holidays and weekends were the worst and her daughter constantly had her curtains closed.

'In despair'

"On the day that they died, Fiona rang up the police and told them children were walking on the hedge and she was told to ignore them.

"The same girls that were walking on the hedge were 'taking the mickey' out of Frankie and imitating the way she walked.

"On another day it was beautifully sunny and I asked why she had the curtains drawn.

"She said the police had told them to do it, so they couldn't see the children walking on the hedge.

"It was going on for so long I thought somebody would have done something. Fiona just gave up."

Mrs Cassell added: "She was in despair really, nobody did anything and she was just frustrated. Nobody was doing anything to help her, not the police, the council or the Neighbourhood Watch."

The inquest heard the family had never taken a holiday together and Mrs Pilkington had never received respite care for her daughter, because she did not know how to apply for it.

Asked by the coroner why Ms Pilkington had taken her daughter out in the car with her that night, Mrs Cassell said : "She didn't think anybody would be able to cope with Frankie. She was getting a lot stronger."

The jury returned a suicide verdict on Ms Pilkington and ruled that her daughter was unlawfully killed.

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