Page last updated at 17:59 GMT, Monday, 28 September 2009 18:59 UK

Family hounded to death by gang

ughter Francecca Hardwick
The inquest heard Ms Pilkington "just gave up" after years of abuse

An inquest jury has returned a verdict of suicide on Fiona Pilkington and unlawful killing on her 18-year-old daughter Francecca. The jury said the response of the police and two local councils had also contributed to their deaths.

Single mother Fiona Pilkington drove her disabled daughter Frankie to a layby close to their Leicestershire home, poured petrol over the back seat of her car and set light to it.

The resulting fire and explosion killed them both.

Two years on their family told an inquest in Loughborough it was a final act of desperation after they were tormented by a local gang of youths for 10 years and, despite 33 calls to police and meetings with council officers, felt deserted.

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

Police admitted they did not link the numerous complaints or acknowledge them as hate crimes.

Nobody was doing anything to help her, not the police, the council or the Neighbourhood Watch
Pam Cassell, Fiona Pilkington's mother

At the inquest however, the local authority said children were still causing problems on the same street.

Ms Pilkington, 38, was a full time carer for her disabled daughter, who was 18 and getting increasingly difficult to look after.

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

Giving evidence Mrs Pilkington's mother, Pam Cassell, 72, said the gang would torment Frankie and her brother before they went to bed.

She said they would taunt them at the front door, shouting: "We can do anything we like and you can't do anything about it.

"Fiona couldn't defend herself. She was very shy and didn't want any trouble so tended to ignore them. She was very vulnerable."

Fiona Pilkington's house
Fiona Pilkington kept her curtains drawn to avoid seeing the gang

Coroner Olivia Davison heard about one incident where Ms Pilkington's son Anthony was put into a shed at knifepoint. But despite dozens of calls to the police and Hinkley and Bosworth Borough Council, little was done to help the family.

Mrs Cassell said that 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 the school holidays and weekends were the worst and her daughter constantly had her curtains closed.

"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," said Mrs Cassell.

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

The inquest also heard that on one occasion, Ms Pilkington was told by police she was "over-reacting".

Chris Tew, former Assistant Chief Constable of Leicestershire, admitted many of Ms Pilkington's calls to police were not linked and were regarded as anti-social behaviour.

Hate crimes

On some occasions the reports were not passed on to the street's beat officer.

"There's no damage or assault and it doesn't pass the threshold for a crime," he said.

"The reporting system is that something ongoing is given a grade two. It's infrequent that there are any resources to respond.

"Things have moved on quite considerably - there would be a totally different response today than there was then."

Now abuse based on disability is included in hate crimes, which are flagged above other anti-social crime.

In February 2007, Hinckley and Bosworth Borough Council spoke to four families about their children, but one family refused to meet them and continued to cause problems.

'Damaged confidence'

Ron Grantham, council community safety manager, said: "Throughout this tragic case this family still continue to cause trouble to this day.

"One of the particular offenders of antisocial behaviour continued to cause problems, it's not just one, it's members of the family."

He conceded the case had not "put confidence" in what the police and council do.

"[But] as a partnership we have introduced a way of protecting public confidence and we have introduced an awful lot of ways to stop anti-social behaviour," he said.

However, it has come to late for Mrs Pilkington and Frankie, Mrs Cassell told the inquest.

"She was in despair really, nobody did anything and she was just frustrated," she said.

"Nobody was doing anything to help her, not the police, the council or the Neighbourhood Watch."

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