A British couple are facing long jail terms on Wednesday for starting a fire that killed six of their children in what prosecutors said was an attention-grabbing stunt gone tragically wrong.

Mick and Mairead Philpott are facing sentencing for manslaughter over the May 2012 blaze in Derby, central England.

The deaths of the children, aged 5 to 13, and the twisting saga that ensued have horrified and fascinated Britain.

Prosecutors said the Philpotts had hatched a plan to start the gasoline-fuelled fire and then rescue the children, pinning blame on Mick Philpott’s former mistress so he could gain advantage in a child custody battle.

The couple and a friend, Paul Mosley, were said to have planned to get all the children to sleep in one bedroom so that they could be rescued through a window when the fire started. But prosecutor Richard Latham said the plan went wrong within minutes, because the fire was far bigger than expected and the father was unable to smash a window to get in.

The children were asleep in their beds when the fire started. Five died that morning, and the sixth died three days later in the hospital.

During their trial the jury heard details of an unorthodox life in which 56-year-old Mick Philpott who had 17 children with five women lived with both his 32-year-old wife and his girlfriend in the same small house.

Police quickly grew suspicious of the Philpotts, and bugged a hotel room where they were staying. The jury heard recordings of Mick Philpott asking his wife: “Are you sticking to the story?”

The jury was not told that he had a previous conviction for attempted murder, for stabbing a former girlfriend and her mother when he was 21.

The story was front-page news on Wednesday, with publications seeing all manner of social ills reflected in Mick Philpott’s moustached face.

For the liberal Guardian, he was “a control freak whose domestic violence went unchecked.” For the conservative Daily Mail he was “a vile product of welfare U.K.” To the Daily Mirror he was simply “pure evil.”

“He was the sort of person who gives compassion and public support a bad name,” said lawmaker Margaret Beckett, who represents Philpott’s constituency in Parliament.

“I wished he lived in somebody else’s constituency, if that doesn’t sound a ridiculous thing to say,” she told the BBC. “He wasn’t somebody you wanted to be responsible for in any way.”

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