Derbyshire police say 13-year-old Duwayne Philpott, five of whose siblings died in a house fire on Friday, is unlikely to survive.
“Duwayne suffered serious injuries in the fire,” said Assistant Chief Constable Steve Cotterill. “Mr and Mrs Philpot remain at their son’s bedside.”
St George’s Roman Catholic Church held a service for the local community to offer their prayers in memory of his sibliings: Jade Philpott, 10, John, nine, Jack, seven, Jessie, six, and Jayden, five, who died after the blaze at their house in Allenton, Derby, on Friday morning.
The church is affiliated with the children’s school, St George’s Catholic Primary School, and is attended by the children’s father, Mick Philpott. Father Alan Burbidge, of the church, said that he had visited the school and has “never before in [his] life had to deal with anything on this scale”.
Derbyshire police questioned a 28-year-old woman and a 38-year-old man in connection with the deaths after they were arrested on suspicion of murder, but later released them without charge.
“I want to stress that we are keeping an open mind in terms of the investigation. The arrest are only one aspect of the inquiry.” Mr Cotterill said. “It is paramount that we have a thorough investigation of the secene before we determine the cause of the fire”.
Specially trained police officers and forensic specialists will continue to examine the scene of the fire and the surrounding area.
Neighbours of the family have also started to raise money to help pay for the funerals of the five children. Father Alan Burbidge, of St George’s Church, where the children took holy communion, said: “It is wonderful at such a terrible time for people to think of the family in this way and start a fund. If people want the church to be a focal point for that, then I will do all I can to help.
“We are happy to be one of the contributing members. I have just taken a call from an undertaker in Nottingham who has offered five coffins. There has been a lot of interest and support.”
Emergency services were called to reports of fire at the house shortly before 4am on Friday. The six children were asleep in their beds, and two adults, including Mr Philpott, were downstairs.
It is wonderful at such a terrible time for people to think of the family in this way and start a fund. Father Alan Burbidge
Mr Philpott, neighbours and firefighters fought to rescue the trapped children from the first floor of the council house. They were taken to the Royal Derby Hospital, but died despite doctors’ efforts to save them.
Classmates of the children have already held assemblies in each class. Father Burbidge told the Derby Telegraph that the assemblies had been to help the children “come to terms with the news”. He said: “They have made little cards and any cards and flowers left at the school, we will put in the church this weekend. I visited the school myself and I have never before in my life had to deal with anything on this scale.
“I have never seen so many children lost at once in a school. It is just terribly tragic. There is a huge hole in the school community now.”
Mr Philpott, who had already featured in national news and is described as being the father of 17 children, had already hit the headlines some years ago after he demanded a larger house to share with his wife, girlfriend and eight children.
MP Anne Widdecombe, who spent a week living with him for the programme, paid tribute to Mr Philpott. “Nobody would ever call him a bad father,” she said. “I’m so sorry to hear the news and my thoughts are with the family.”
Nobody would ever call him a bad father. I’m so sorry to hear the news and my thoughts are with the family. Anne Widdecombe MP
Forensic specialists are examining the house, and post-mortem examinations are expected to be carried out this weekend.
Mr Cotterill, from Derbyshire Police, said that two adults in the home, whom he did not name, escaped the fire without serious injury after being alerted by a smoke detector.