Image: Mother and daughter car deaths inquest
David Jones  /  AP file
Investigators respond to the scene where the bodies of a mother and disabled daughter were found in a burning car in October 2007. A jury has ruled that the woman killed herself and her daughter after years of abuse from a gang of youths.
updated 9/28/2009 8:51:33 PM ET 2009-09-29T00:51:33

Years of torment from young neighbors led a despairing single mother to kill herself and her disabled daughter, and police inaction contributed to the deaths, a British inquest jury ruled Monday.

Fiona Pilkington suffered more than a decade of abuse from a gang of youths who terrorized her family by urinating on her house, taunting her developmentally challenged daughter and beating her severely dyslexic son.

Despite repeated calls to police and desperate letters to her local lawmaker, no one intervened to stop the persecution, and Pilkington killed herself and her 18-year-old daughter when she set fire to their family car in October 2007.

"This has been a shocking and immensely distressing case," British Home Secretary Alan Johnson told journalists after the verdict, adding that police and local government officials had "some hard lessons" to learn.

An inquest into Pilkington and her daughter Francecca Hardwick's death heard that the pair endured having their home pelted with stones, eggs and flour and having their garden ransacked. At one point Hardwick, who had the mental age of a 4-year-old, was a verbally assailed by more than a dozen youths who demanded that she lift up her nightdress.

Pilkington's son Anthony, now 19, also was abused over the years. He was once taken to a shed at knifepoint and locked in by the gang — some of whose members were as young as 10. Later, he was attacked with an iron bar.

Police: 'Extremely sorry'
The inquest in Loughborough, in central England, heard that 33 calls to police did not result in any prosecutions for bullying or harassment. In one case police reported back that Pilkington had been "overreacting" — in another case she was simply told to draw her curtains.

The inquest — which under British law must be held when someone dies unexpectedly, violently or of unknown causes — ruled that police's failure to respond to the family's pleas for help contributed to their deaths.

Leicestershire police said it was "extremely sorry" over the deaths, and the force's Temporary Chief Constable Chris Eyre offering his "unreserved apologies" to the family and the wider public after the verdict.

Pilkington's family said the case highlighted problems faced by parents of disabled children, and campaigners and academics said the police's sluggishness in responding to the attacks showed that hate crimes against disabled people were often ignored.

"The failure to take seriously the 'drip-drip' of daily violence against some disabled people is at the heart of the Pilkington case," said professor Alan Roulstone, who researches disability issues at De Montfort University in central England. He said that while British society had made strides toward tackling religious or racially-motivated hate crimes, disabled people were often "last on the list."

Hate crime
The sentiment was backed by the chief executive of disability charity Scope, Jon Sparkes, who said that while police were getting better at recognizing attacks against ethnic minorities or homosexuals, "in general, there is a profound lack of awareness about disability hate crime."

"Often people do not even accept that a disabled person can be targeted simply because they are disabled," he said.

Britain's police watchdog, the Independent Police Complaints Commission, said it would investigate Leicestershire police's handling of the case.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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