PAULA THOMPSON asks why a doting dad like Dave Cass would kill his children.

THE children are dressed and sit excitedly in the back of the car, wondering where Daddy is going to take them. But this is no happy family outing. In fact, the very man they love and look to for protection is driving them to their deaths.

On Father’s Day this year, Brian Philcox drove Amy, seven, and Owen, three, to a remote beauty spot in North Wales where he gassed them and himself with exhaust fumes from his car.

He had planned the murder carefully and even sent a chilling text message to their mother, his ex wife, saying: “I’ve left you a present.”

It is a horrific crime made all the more disturbing by its sickeningly familiarity. In 2006 dad John Hogan threw his sixyear- old son Liam over a fourth-floor balcony to his death after rowing with his wife on a family holiday.

In April this year, Chris Townsend – who was said to be locked in a bitter divorce battle with his wife – hanged himself after torching his house and killing his six-year-old son Charlie.

Then, last month, fallen millionaire businessman Christopher Foster shot his unsuspecting teenage daughter in the back of the head, before shooting his wife as she slept, torching their mansion and then turning the rifle on himself.

Now Southampton dad Dave Cass has joined this tragic roll call of murderous fathers. While the circumstances remain unclear, police believe the 32-year-old killed his two daughters, aged one and three, before hanging himself.

The self-employed MoT tester phoned his family to tell them he planned to kill his daughters but the warning was too late to save them. Bafflingly, those who knew him, describe the father as a “doting family man” which make his actions utterly incomprehensible.

How do seemingly loving fathers like Brian Philcox, John Hogan and Chris Townsend knowingly murder their own children?

Are they driven by hatred, despair, anger or insanity? And can their actions ever be excused or are these men simply evil? Psychologists cite mental illness as a huge driving factor behind murder-suicides, or “family-annihilations” as they are called in America. Some parents may have decided life is no longer worth living and truly believe it kinder to take their children with them.

Desire for revenge Experts also believe anger and a desire for revenge can cause dads to commit murder-suicide. Leading Hampshire forensic and clinical psychologist Dr Ludwig Lowenstein says: “I have seen many cases where the hatred for someone is more powerful than the love for the children. Usually it is hatred towards a partner or ex-partner.

“Also, fathers can sometimes feel that another male figure will take their place and leave them on the outside. It is very sad but a combination of depression and a sense of helplessness – a feeling that they will lose their children anyway – can and does drive people to do this. They feel there is no alternative.”

When Perry Samuel asphyxiated his children Caitlin, five, and Aidan, three, the judge cited the motive as malice against his estranged spouse. And when Gavin Hall drugged his four-year-old daughter Millie before suffocating her with a chloroform-soaked rag, he had just discovered his wife was having an affair.

But it is not just men who are capable of murdering their children – 78 per cent of child murders are committed by the parents – and mums are just as likely to be the killers as dads. Nadine Taylor, campaign co-ordinator for Fathers 4 Justice is calling for a national helpline for distressed dads.

“There is deep-rooted sympathy for the mother and child bond,” she says.

“Everyone is very quick to talk about post natal depression, but fathers get depressed as well. It is deeply destructive to label these men as evil. For a person to do something like this they have gone beyond the rational stage of thought. In some cases they do face losing their children and it’s like a living bereavement.”