Nation shares the grief of controversial dad who once revelled in publicity
WITH 18 children to his name and his demands for a bigger council house to fit his growing family in, Mick Philpott is a man who has felt the strength of public opinion.
After complaining that his Derby home was too small he exploded into the national spotlight, prompting waves of backlash from outraged taxpayers.
But yesterday, Mr Philpott was simply a father in unutterable grief, a dad trying to deal with a terrible truth no parent should ever have to face – that five of his young children had died in a devastating fire.
Even the most ardent of his critics would have felt the sheer horror of such a loss of young life. Even the most vocal of his detractors would have been stunned by such tragedy.
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And no one could have been left unmoved after hearing of Mr Philpott's desperate, valiant but ultimately unsuccessful attempts to save his young children from the blaze which engulfed his Victory Road home in the early hours of yesterday.
Throughout the day, news reports showed the blackened front of the house – the same house which Mr Philpott first complained about five years ago.
The Derby Telegraph originally interviewed Mr Philpott in 2006. At the time, he was living in the Allenton home with his wife, mistress and eight children and claiming more than £500 in benefits a week.
But he told the paper that the house was too small, that it was too cramped for his family. Derby City Council, which owned the house, had said it was unable to help Mr Philpott and he responded by saying the country was "going down the pan".
He said at the time he was frustrated that the council had failed to find him a house. "They always come up with the same excuses," he said. "They're just not good enough. I love my country but at the moment I feel ashamed of it. I think the country is going down the pan."
It was a story which was quickly followed up by the national press. Across the UK Mr Philpott was criticised for the size of his family and his reliance on state support.
The Daily Star and the Express ran the story on their front pages while the Sun, Times, Daily Mail and Daily Mirror all carried reports on the family. TV programmes such as the Jeremy Kyle Show and This Morning were both keen to speak to him, leading to appearances on both, and critics wrote their views about Mr Philpott on newspaper comment pages.
But through it all he had his defenders. His mother, Peggy Philpott, said: "He's a very good father. The kids want for nothing. The council's been unfair. They should have been housed by now."
And Mr Philpott himself said he was unfazed by the reaction to his comments.
He told the Derby Telegraph weeks later: "I'm on cloud nine at the moment. I love criticism. People are just jealous of my living arrangements, that's all.
"I can understand what pop stars have to put up with now. My phone hasn't stopped ringing with people wanting comments off me."
It was Mr Philpott's unemployment which drew a large deal of the public criticism.
It was this which led to staunch Conservative MP Ann Widdecombe getting in touch with the father-of-18 to see if he wanted to take part in a documentary called Ann Widdecombe Versus The Benefits Culture.
For the programme, Miss Widdecombe spent a week with Mr Philpott, following him as he lived his life.
During the filming, the fiery MP helped Mr Philpott find three potential jobs, resulting in an offer of employment with Burton-based barrel maker Cammac Brewery Support Services.
The company later withdrew the offer after Mr Philpott failed to turn up.
After the show was completed, Miss Widdecombe remained unimpressed with Mr Philpott's lifestyle.
She said: "My solution remains workfare: if you want benefits, you have to earn them."
But yesterday, after hearing the news of the fire which claimed the lives of Mr Philpott's five children, Miss Widdecombe said she was deeply saddened by the tragedy.
She said: "I am very sorry to hear what has happened and my thoughts are with Mr Philpott and his family."
In September 2007, after first making the promise on The Jeremy Kyle Show, Mr Philpott claimed he had had a vasectomy. Since then, he has lived a relatively quiet life, rarely appearing in the pages of the press.
But whatever preconceptions and ideas the public may have had about Mr Philpott, there is simply no denying the scale of the grief which has engulfed his life.
And it can only be hoped that the same vocal reaction which has formed such a powerful background to his life in recent years will now support him in dealing with this enormous tragedy.