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Father cried: 'I should've died in the fire. I wanted to die'

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: November 16, 2012

  • Police at the scene of the fire in the village of Trevarrian, Newquay, believed to have been started by Ben's father


Medical experts have said they had "no concerns" for the safety of a Cornwall woman and her son who were killed in a house fire believed to have been started by their mentally ill relative.

Harold Philpotts was chief suspect in a house fire which claimed the life of his estranged wife Patricia and their ten-year-old son Ben on January 18, 2010.

A police investigation placed Mr Philpotts at the centre of their inquiry, having been seen fleeing the house in the moments after the blaze started, at Trevarrian, Newquay, covered in burns and smelling of petrol.

Mrs Philpotts was pronounced dead at the scene while Ben, who had sustained multiple blows to the head – believed to have been caused by a sledgehammer – was unconscious and unable to escape as smoke and fumes filled his room.

He was pronounced dead at hospital.

Mr Philpotts was found nearby shortly after police were called.

He was apparently injured by the fire, and told officers he was "supposed to have died" in the incident.

Mr Philpotts died eight days later in hospital.

Dr Anand Irpati, from the Cornwall mental health team, told the trio's inquest in Truro how Mr Philpotts had a history of mental health issues but that it did not present significant risk to Mr Philpotts' wife and son.

He said: "Mr Philpotts had delusional beliefs about HIV and a conspiracy to kill him.

"It was considered he presented only a small risk to others."

He added: "At the time of the deaths, there were no concerns for the safety of his wife and son."

Dr Tim Baker, Mr Philpotts' GP at the time of his death, said he was not aware of any concern for Ben and his mother and said there was "nothing to suggest" the deaths were predicable.

The court heard how former painter and decorator Mr Philpotts had fled after the "explosion" at the home, believed to have involved an accelerant.

He was apprehended by police around an hour later, where officers quickly became aware of the full extent of his injuries.

Policeman Robert Hardwick described how Mr Philpotts' lips were burnt and his face was covered in soot. He was also said to have been smelling of petrol, and a lighter was found in his pocket.

The suspect then told officers he wanted to die in the fire. Mr Hardwick said in a statement: "Mr Philpotts said: 'Oh God'. It was like he realised the horror of his actions, like he had a flashback."

Mr Philpotts was later heard to have said: "I should've died in the fire. I wanted to die."

He told officers, who were unable to handcuff him due to the extent of the burns to his arms: "I am not a bad person. Why are you torturing me? You've tortured me for years.

"I love my family."

Mr Philpotts was taken to Royal Cornwall Hospital in Treliske, Truro, for treatment, where Dr Tobias Bateson said the patient shouted "What have I done? I love my family," during treatment.

He was subsequently transferred to a specialist burns unit at Bristol's Frenchay Hospital, but he was pronounced dead eight days later.

Mr Philpotts' mother-in-law Betty Bantock has described him as a "Jekyll and Hyde character".

The hearing in Truro was told Mr Philpotts, also known as Harry, was a regular visitor to Mrs Bantock's bungalow at weekends, to visit his son, and was unhappy about the prospect of having to return to his flat on the morning of the incident – his 47th birthday.

Mrs Bantock told police: "I can only assume that Pat had a few words with Harry to go back to his flat. He never wanted to go back."

Mrs Philpotts' niece Samantha Whitewood, who was in the bungalow at the time of the fire, recalled the moment she saw Mr Philpotts emerge from the upstairs flat covered in soot and blood.

Miss Whitewood also told the court her uncle was unhappy about the prospect of being separated from his wife and son following a breakdown in his relationship with Mrs Philpotts, previously saying: "If I can't have my little family, no-one can."

The hearing continues.

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