Mentally ill father battered ten-year-old son to death with sledgehammer before starting blaze which killed his mother, inquest told


An inquest in Truro was told that it was thought Harry Philpotts bludgeoned his ten-year-old son Ben to death

  • Ben Philpotts, ten, was thought to have been bludgeoned with a sledgehammer in his bed

Three members of the same family died following a bungalow fire, believed to have been started by the father who had a history of mental illness, a court has heard.

Ten-year-old Ben Philpotts was thought to have been bludgeoned with a sledgehammer as he lay in his bed in Trevarrian, Newquay, Cornwall, at around 6am on January 18, 2010.

His mother, Patricia Philpotts, died almost instantly in a blaze which was believed to have been started in her bedroom around the same time Ben was attacked, while Harold Philpotts fled from the property.

Ben was pronounced dead that morning, while Mr Philpotts died in hospital eight days later, suffering from multiple organ failure.

A police investigation subsequently suggested that 47-year-old Mr Philpotts had been responsible for the deaths of his young son and estranged wife at the property .

At an inquest into their deaths today in Truro, a statement was read from Mrs Philpotts’ mother, Betty Bantock, in which she described her son-in-law as a ‘Jekyll and Hyde character”, who had a history of hypochondria including being convinced he had HIV and cancer.

On one occasion, he demanded doctors also test his son for HIV, having been convinced – wrongly – the pair were infected.

The hearing was told Mr Philpotts, also known as Harry, was a regular visitor to the bungalow at weekends, 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.”

She said she woke up around 6am on the day of the fire, sharing a cigarette with her daughter – a data entry clerk at Royal Cornwall Hospital, Treliske – in their conservatory, before Mrs Philpotts went upstairs to her room.

Earlier, Mr Philpotts had been seen ‘pacing up and down” the conservatory while also having a cigarette. He returned inside the main part of the property when the others went out to smoke, she said.

I then heard a terrific explosion,” she said in a statement.

‘It was like a bomb going off, and then shattering of glass.

‘That’s when Harry came back downstairs.”

Mrs Bantock’s granddaughter – Mrs Philpott’s niece, who also lived, downstairs, in the property – said she heard screams from upstairs, as Mr Philpotts walked down the stairs towards the kitchen.

Mrs Bantock, 80, said: ‘He walked straight past me.

‘I was still stood in the kitchen and I turned my head to look at him.

‘He didn’t say anything to me.

‘I thought he was going for a cigarette.

‘I didn’t see any burns.”

Police at the scene of the fire in Treverrian, Newquay, which Harry Philpotts is believed to have started in January 2010

Emergency services were called but could not save 44-year-old Mrs Philpotts or her son.

The court heard there were two petrol cans found in Mrs Philpotts’ room where the fire is believed to have started, while a sledgehammer weighing 7.4kg was found in Ben’s bed.

Forensic experts said traces of petrol were found on Mr Philpotts’ clothing, after he was arrested nearby, which were typical of a spillage caused when pouring fuel.

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.

She said: ‘I very quickly became aware of a big smashing sound. I could hear Pat screaming something like ‘No!’.

‘I walked into the hallway and asked what was going on. I saw Harry coming down. He walked towards the kitchen and was covered in soot.

‘He had the most terrified look on his face and an injury to his right arm.

‘I said ‘What’s happened?’ He didn’t speak, he just walked by.”

She said she ran upstairs, only to be confronted by a layer of ‘thick smoke, lying like a blanket”.

Miss Whitewood also told the court that 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.”

Daily Mail

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