Real or false grief?: couple charged with killing own children

Hot on the heels of yesterday’s post ‘Reading Faces: Inferring Intent,’ today Mairead and Mick Philpott in Derby, England were arrested on suspicion of murdering their six children by setting fire to their home. The case is especially interesting, for our purposes, because about two weeks ago the grief stricken couple held a (televised) news conference to thank the community for its support.

The story is here: Helen Carter. Parents arrested over Derby house fire that killed six children. The Guardian. Tuesday, May 29, 2012.

Keeping in mind that they are innocent until proven guilty, we are entitled to form an opinion on the veracity of their grief as revealed in the following video.

Is this authentic or feigned grief? And why?

The video is here.

One thought on “Real or false grief?: couple charged with killing own children

  1. Hi there

    Well as I read some of the stories about their arrest, I really cannot say if I was unable to ‘assess’ the authenticity of their grief in an objective manner. Perhaps being influenced by subsequent developments in this case, I would have to say that the grief appears rather ‘feigned’ to me. They keep wiping their eyes but I see no tears or running noses. The mother’s expression simply seemed ‘forced’ to me.

    The other reality is that though unthinkable, murder of children by parents is among the leading causes of death in children in developing countries and when child murder occurs, it is often the parent(s) who is the perpetrator (Cycle, nd). However, even considering this reality, child murder by parents is still relatively rare. Filicide, the murder of one’s own children has been widely studied. In earlier times, filicide was actually used to control family size and weed out weak, abnormal or illegitimate children (Liem & Koenraadt, 2008). More recently, there have been several classification systems developed that address the motives of such horrendous crimes. One such system explores the motives of such crime (Cycle, nd) and suggests five categories of explanations including psychosis, revenge on a spouse and murder of an unwanted child.

    There are marked gender differences in the profiles of parents who kill their children. Female perpetrators are more common and mothers are most often involved in the murder of younger children; fathers are the most frequent perpetrators of filicide in later childhood and in cases involving murder of the entire family (familicide). Both parents are occasionally involved. (Liem & Koenraadt, 2008). Psychopathology; esp., psychosis plays a huge roils in these crimes as does feeling so retaliation toward a partner by filicidal fathers.

    In my review of the literature on filicide my first impression is that this case does not ‘fit’ some of the more common classification systems. Although undoubtedly innocent till proven guilty, I already know which way I am leaning in this case and am unsure how much the video affected this opinion.


    Liem, M. & Koenraadt, F. (2008). Filicide: A comparative study of maternal versus paternal child homicide. Criminal Behavior and Mental Health, 18, 166-176.

    Cyle, L. (nd). Classifications and descriptions of Parents who Commit Filicide. retrieved from

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