Coroner Olivia Davison yesterday spoke up about the importance of press scrutiny at coroners’ courts – after an inquest jury ruled that Leicestershire Police inaction contributed to the deaths of Fiona Pilkington and her 18-year-old disabled daughter Francecca Hardwick.
Pilkington killed herself and her daughter by setting light to her car as they sat inside it. The inquest heard that the pair had suffered ten years of abuse from a local gang.
Davison lambasted the police for their failure to recognise the vulnerability of Fiona Pilkington and her family.
At one point she was confronted by Richard Perks, counsel for Leicestershire Constabulary, who criticised her in a private hearing for the way in which she had cross-examined a member of the force.
After listening to Perks’s remarks about how her comments, and subsequent press reports, might influence the jury, Davison left him in no doubt who was boss in her court.
She said: “It is one of the glories of this country that the press is allowed to report from the courts.
“A coroner’s inquiry, and I am quoting Jamieson, should make sure the facts are fully, fairly and fearlessly investigated. I should not hide from asking inconvenient questions.
“I do not intend to stop the inquiry and I do not intend to stop being fearless in my questioning.
“I am interested in finding out how this tragedy happened.
“The most important people in this court are the family and Mrs Cassell (Ms Pilkington’s mother) must leave this inquest with the answers about how her daughter and grand-daughter died.”
At this point Perks sat down.
The police officer who had been questioned by Davison had received a tough time from the coroner.
Chris Tew, former assistant chief constable of Leicestershire Constabulary, claimed the youths who abused Ms Pilkington and her family, could not be prosecuted.
But Davison was having none of it.
“There are seven or eight Acts of Parliament that are smack-on for dealing with the problems that this family were facing,” she said.
“I don’t think that officers would have needed specific training as this family was patently vulnerable and it would not have needed training to identify this.”