2 Apr 2013

Philpott priest: ‘We never thought they’d harm the children’

As Mairead and Mick Philpott are found guilty of the manslaughter of their six children, Darshna Soni talks to Father Alan Burbridge, the family’s priest, about the motivation behind the tragic fire.

Perhaps surprisingly, Father Alan Burbridge told Channel 4 News he has some sympathy for the Philpotts.

Mick and Mairead Philpott thought they could outwit the police, the press and the public. But, their anguish was an act.

One of those they tried to fool was Father Alan Burbridge, is also chair of governors at the children’s school and who knew the family well.

He is a thoughtful man, who has tried to reflect on what could have motivated the Philpotts.

Perhaps surprisingly, he told me Mick and Mairead were good parents and that there were never any concerns about the children: “I’ll never forget visiting the Philpotts at home, and seeing Mick making a great big pot of spaghetti for everyone. It was almost a like a school playground.”

Huge sympathy for parents

This probably helps to explain why, originally, there was a huge amount of sympathy for the parents. Father Burbridge helped to organise a community meeting:

“The day after the fire, there was a large crowd gathered outside the house. They brought flowers, cards, candles. Fundraising started very, very quickly. We had a meeting to see how we could get involved. People wanted to do something… Often in these times, people want to raise funds. Altogether, we raised £12,000, mainly to help with funeral costs.”

Many who raised funds then felt betrayed, when Mick and Mairead were arrested and charged over the deaths. And yet, Father Burbridge told me he believes the couple never meant to kill their children:

And he has sympathy for the couple. “I think my approach to it was to try and understand what was going on, to get some sort of understanding of what the fire was all about… but in line with so many people that you speak to, we never thought that they intended harm to the children… they had a plan and whatever their motives, I think part of the plan was that the children could be rescued.”

‘We may never know why’

I asked him what may have motivated them – but he told me we may never know, because, to this day, they still deny involvement. Father Burbridge visited Mick Philpott in prison:

“He spoke very strongly about not being guilty over the deaths of his children.

“I asked if Mick had ever expressed any sadness or remorse: “He obviously believes himself that he didn’t kill his children, how will he square that with the evidence we’ve heard that that’s not very persuasive.”