Evil, wicked, tyrannical, depraved, twisted, stupid, boastful, manipulative, selfish, misogynist, vindictive, narcissist.
Arsonist, knife attacker, rapist, child killer.
So many labels apply to Michael Philpott; what's the worst you can think of?
Philpott is, by all accounts, a thoroughly nasty piece of work. He is violent, controlling and demanding. He requires the limelight, treats people as possessions and lashes out when he doesn't get his own way.
There are plenty who do that; rather fewer father fifteen children by five women; fewer still expect society to support them. Philpott is, thankfully, unique in setting fire to his home as five young boys and a little girl slept upstairs.
For the redtops and the 'broadsheets', the story is all about the darker sides of being human. About love and lust, sex and violence, heroism and villainy, betrayal and revenge and – most of all – about life and death.
If you are part of that conceit 'Middle England' and read the 'middle market' papers, it all comes down to money.
The deaths of the Philpott children was one of those stories that required no embellishment. Every detail uncovered through the trial added to the horror, as has the background that has emerged since the verdicts. Yet look at the language of the Daily Mail splash:
"He treated his 17 sons and daughters like cash cows – generating a staggering benefits income of £60,000 a year."
"Yesterday Mick Philpott remained shameless to the last…."
From there we are force-fed adjectival hyperbole, so that in seven front-page paragraphs we have
"drug-taking layabout, who embodies everything that is wrong with the the welfare state… "
"an appalling attempt to frame Philpott's former live-in lover…"
"the cramped three-bedroom semi…"
"the cynical trio…"
"incredibly, the tragic Philpott children…"
"not being regularly monitored by social workers despite dangerous living conditions…"
"father's notorious appearances on national television…"
"boasted of his sex-obsessed and benefits-funded lifestyle…"
"plotted to 'get rich quick'…"
Please, please stop. This is formulaic journalism. Nasty man on benefits plots to get more cash and a new house by setting fire to his home, at the same time making himself a hero by rescuing his children. He gets revenge on his former lover and a new house into the bargain. The Express takes the same view.
This all built on the unsubstantiated premise that Philpott wanted Ms Willis and her children under his roof simply because they represented more money in his bank account.
In a thoughtful, but instantly ridiculed, column for the Independent, Owen Jones predicted even before the Express and Mail went to press that some would see the case as an indictment of the welfare state.
The Philpotts say nothing about anyone, except for themselves, just as the serial murderer GP Harold Shipman says nothing about middle-class professionals…the Philpott case relates in no way to people on benefits in this country…
If you really want to read the Philpott story in its entirety, balanced coverage, sober writing, and some real insight, the best place to look is the Derby Telegraph. The paper has put on extra pages and turned out a stunning website. The 29-page supplement may have been a bit over the top, but after swimming through the morass of slime that has been published today on the subject, the 40 stories published on the Telegraph's website today and the many more produced through the trial have been a breath of fresh air.
Many congratulations to Editor Neil White and his team, most especially crime reporter Martin Naylor, fellow reporter Caroline Jones and online publisher Julie Bayley.