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Priest at Philpott trial

by
12 April 2013

by Nigel Burnham

JOANNE WHITEHEAD

At the scene: the Revd Joanne Whitehead, of St Mary's, Boulton, visits the site of the fire in which six children died, in Victory Road, Derby

At the scene: the Revd Joanne Whitehead, of St Mary's, Boulton, visits the site of the fire in which six children died, in Victory Road, Derby

A PRIEST who counselled police in the wake of the house fire in Derby that killed six children said this week that the experience had been "tragic, traumatic, and life-changing" for everyone involved.

An assistant curate at St Mary the Virgin, Boulton, Derby, the Revd Joanne Whitehead, has been a member of the National Association of Chaplains for the Police for three years. She found herself at the front line last year, supporting police officers who tried to save the children who died in the fire started by their parents, Mick and Mairead Philpott, and their friend Paul Mosley.

"It's been very challenging," Mrs Whitehead said. "Everybody involved has been trying to make sense of it all, and coming to terms with their limitations.

"A lot of people think that the police and fire services are somehow superhuman. But the reality is that in many ways they are just like you and me, and many of them were profoundly affected by this case.

"I visited court four times to try to support the officers giving evidence, because it had been such an intense experience for them. One policeman who tried CPR unsuccessfully on one of the children was devastated. Two more officers have started going to church."

Mrs Whitehead revealed that she had gone to the site of the fire in Victory Road, after the Philpotts had been found guilty, to support the police officers on duty and to talk with some of the neighbours.

"One lady asked me directly where the children are now, and I told her that I believe they are safe in the arms of their heavenly Father. There were three children listening to our conversation, and a little girl said: 'See, I told you so.'

"At another house, one of the Philpotts' neighbours shouted: 'Where were you when this happened? Where was God when those dead children were brought out?' We have had to talk about how God isn't an all-controlling puppeteer. He has given us the gift of free will so we can choose our own way and walk the paths we want to. The fire was started by adults who made a choice to do that."

 

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