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The Complex Philpott Fire Case

Written by: Alan Baker 14th November, 2022

Last week, the company founder, David Baldock, gave an insight into his most memorable case and today our current MD, Alan Baker, shares some thoughts on his most memorable case, that of Michael Philpott in 2012, which involved the deaths of 6 children at a house fire in Derby.

 

The police investigation established that:

  1. The fire was started with an accelerant
  2. The fire was started immediately behind the front door
  3. The fire spread was restricted to the hallway and the lounge
  4. Smoke and toxic gas entered the lounge and all the rooms upstairs
  5. The lounge was open throughout the fire

What wasn’t known:

  1. Who put the petrol behind the door?
  2. Who lit the petrol and was it through the letter box?
  3. Who broke the upstairs window?

 

The following is an extract of the recording of the call to emergency services

https://www.itv.com/news/story/2013-02-12/philpott-trial/

 

Petrol is an accelerant of choice in more than 50% of arson cases.

Petrol is a very complex mixture of chemicals, some natural and some added. The latter type was to be crucial in this case.

 

The timeline of events in the case were:

  1. Fire reported
  2. Emergency services arrived
  3. Parents taken to Birmingham Hospital
  4. Clothing and footwear recovered from Michael and Mairead Philpott. This was the single biggest forensic “event” in this investigation or, more specifically, Mr Philpott’s pants were and the below schematic is an extract from our laboratory notes which indicates where the Prosecution suggested that certain brands of petrol were located on Mr Philpott.

 

 

In conclusion, it was observed that:

Not every crime scene will produce significant forensic evidence and fire scenes can present problems of preservation.

“Ownership” of a fire scene can be an issue.

Domestic incidents can produce complications with regard to interpretation of scientific evidence e.g. presence of DNA and fingerprints of the occupants.

In the Philpott case, the lack of significant “other” evidence put extra emphasis on an unusual type of forensic evidence; petrol profiling.

Mr Baker comments that “Not every case that he is involved with ends-up with me going  to Court but I did attend Nottingham Crown Court for the Philpott trial. I remember on the day in question,  Mr Philpott was more concerned about getting back to prison in time for a football game on TV rather than talking to his legal representatives at the end of proceedings that day. It’s this sort of personal insight which makes people and forensic science so interesting.”