British couple on trial over fire death of six children

LONDON (AFP) - A British couple accused of killing their six children in a house fire started the blaze themselves as part of a "plan that went horribly wrong", a court heard on Tuesday.

Prosecutors claim that Mick Philpott, 56, and his 31-year-old wife Mairead set fire to their house in Derby, central England, last May in a bid to frame his ex-girlfriend and claim custody of the four children they had together.

The Philpotts, along with a third defendant Paul Mosley, 46, each deny six counts of manslaughter at Nottingham Crown Court.

As their trial opened, Philpott sobbed and tried to leave the dock as the jury listened to the frantic telephone call the couple made to emergency services when the fire took hold in the early hours of May 11, 2012.

Mairead Philpott was heard screaming on the tape, while her husband choked back sobs and told the operator: "I can't get in."

The jury heard that neighbours tried to rescue the children, aged five to 13, but were overwhelmed by the smoke and flames. When police carried the children's bodies from the house, their father had to be restrained.

"It must have been quite clear the plan had gone horribly wrong," prosecutor Richard Latham told the court.

Philpott was overheard at the hospital saying: "It wasn't meant to end like this."

Police later made secret recordings of conversations between the couple. In one extract, Philpott told his wife: "Make sure you stick to your story."

The jury heard that the fire broke out early on the morning Philpott was due to attend court with his ex-mistress, Ms Lisa Willis, to discuss where their children should live.

He had made numerous reports to the police that Willis had threatened him and his family, Mr Latham said.

The family had previously lived under unconventional arrangements, with Philpott, his wife and Ms Willis all sharing a home with the 10 children, plus a child Willis had by another man.

But Ms Willis had broken up with Philpott three months before the fire and taken her children with her.

The court heard that a fortnight before the tragedy, Philpott had told friends he had a plan that would help him win his children back from his ex-girlfriend.

"She was being set up as the culprit," Ms Latham said.

Mosley, the third defendant, is accused of having planned with the Philpotts to rescue the children from the fire.