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Extract from Section 7 Report on Estelle Forster prepared by social worker Jean Biden
2 May 1994
This report has been prepared for the court and should be treated as confidential. It must not be shown, nor its contents revealed, to anyone other than the party or a legal adviser to such a party.
4.1 Description of the child’s daily life and experience at the time harm was identified
Estelle is a seven-year-old white British girl born to parents with long-standing drug addiction issues. Estelle lives with her parents in a two-bedroom local authority flat.
My observation during visits is that the flat is kept in an untidy state. Unclean plates are often left out, carpets are stained and filled with debris, and discarded bottles of alcohol can be seen. Estelle’s bedroom is kept in a reasonably tidy state with a small single bed and a wardrobe. On closer inspection, however, her duvet appears to have not been cleaned for several weeks.
Estelle has informed me in private on several occasions that her parents are still asleep when she wakes. She learnt to dress and feed herself in the morning from the age of six. A typical breakfast is toast and butter, or leftover dinner from the evening before. Estelle noted that she would prefer cereal, but the milk she finds is often sour.
Estelle attends school at Greyswood Primary, a ten-minute walk from her home. Her head teacher, Mrs Jenny Pyatt, informs me Estelle is rarely accompanied by her parents on the short walk from her flat, and parents report having seen her walking to the school alone since she began at the age of four, something Estelle’s mother denies.
Mrs Pyatt informs me Estelle arrives at school dishevelled and unclean on a regular basis. On first starting school at the age of four, she arrived wearing a nappy. But with the help and care of her teachers, she is now able to go to the bathroom.
Estelle’s attendance rate is below average and her parents have only attended one parents’ evening. On this occasion, the police had to be called due to Mr Forster’s abusive behaviour towards the teachers.
In the evenings, Estelle informs me she eats dinner – often chips bought from the local fish and chip shop by her parents or a microwave meal – while watching TV. As detailed in previous reports, there have been two occasions where she has been reported as being left alone while her parents were at the local pub. Her average bedtime is 11 p.m. This continues into the weekend where Estelle spends the majority of her time indoors watching TV or reading.
Estelle does not benefit from any extended family due to both her parents being solo children and her grandparents having passed away.
Estelle has struggled to form friendships due to her low attendance rate at school and her generally shy and reserved nature. Her teachers inform me she takes comfort in retreating to the school library during breaks and has shown a keenness in improving her reading and writing skills. She takes particular joy in any lessons involving food.
The last time I visited Estelle before the distressing incident that led to her being removed from her parents, she was attempting to teach herself how to bake a chocolate cake. It is clear she is a bright girl who could thrive given the right circumstances. But when I mentioned this to her, she informed me her father laughed at her when she told him she wanted to be a chef, and told her the closest she’d get would be ‘working at the local chippie’. I detected a real sense of sadness and pain when she said this.
Combined with the terrible recent incident, I strongly recommend Estelle is permanently removed from her parents before long-lasting emotional damage occurs. It is my professional opinion that we may already be too late.
Chapter One (#u89017e51-5FFF-11e9-9e03-0cc47a520474)
Tuesday, 2 May
Estelle’s dinner party was going perfectly. A soft breeze filtered in through the chiffon curtains, lifting the corners of the organic cotton napkins she’d so carefully chosen. There was the distant tinkle of a police siren above the acoustic guitar music drifting out from her speakers, adding to the ‘sophisticated get-together in the city’ ambience.
On the wall was the painting she’d bought with some of the advance she’d received for her book: a minimalist canvas featuring a simple apple tree against brilliant white. And, of course, laid out on the large misshaped driftwood table were her signature dishes: a vast cauliflower pizza sprinkled with locally sourced lamb cubes; zucchini fritters with Greek yoghurt; carrot quinoa muffins; and chunky chickpea dips with crunchy vegetable crisps.
In the middle of it all, taking pride of place, was the first edition of Estelle’s book, fresh off the printers. On the cover was an apple tree, much like the one on the canvas, plain and simple against a blue cloudless sky. Beneath the tree stood Estelle beside a wooden table filled with fresh vegetables, fruit and meat, her short blonde hair swept across her forehead, her slim body casting a shadow on the grassy knoll behind her. She was dressed in her signature white, this time a plain white cotton dress, highlighting her subtle tan. She smiled into the sun, her oval brown eyes looking at the camera. Held up in the palm of her hand was an apple. And above it all, four letters in glossy white: PURE. The name of her first book.
Estelle took a photo of the table with her phone, and uploaded it to Instagram with the caption: Early copies in of my book! Let the celebrations begin … #Pure #foodie #nom
Her editor Silvia leaned over and smoothed her fingertips over the book cover. ‘I always love the feel of a first edition,’ she said, smiling at Estelle.
‘And the smell,’ Giles, her husband, another eminent editor, said, leaning down for a quick sniff.
Everyone laughed and Estelle joined in. God, it felt good to be here with her closest friends, celebrating the success she’d worked so bloody hard for.
‘Everyone dig in,’ Estelle said, standing up. ‘I’ll just get some more wine; can’t believe you’ve already polished off three bottles!’
She walked away from the table smiling to herself, the bottom of her long white skirt swishing around her ankles as she padded barefoot into her large state-of-the-art kitchen. When she was out of sight, she closed her eyes, leaning her head against the large cool fridge, taking in a deep breath. She’d spent half the day cooking; she was exhausted. But it was worth it. She turned back around, taking in the happy scene in the room next door. Yes, it was worth it. She’d fought so hard for this. She deserved to celebrate.
She clenched her hands into fists, silently berating herself. Yes, she did deserve this. Look where she’d come from.
She took in each of her friends. Had they had to battle so hard to get where they were? She doubted it. Her guests were a mixture of people from her publishing house, a few fellow bloggers, plus her boyfriend Seb, his brother Dean and Dean’s pregnant wife Laura. All born to well-off families; privileged with happy innocent childhoods. Only Christina had come from what Estelle would call a ‘normal’ family. They’d met at a foodie awards event three years ago, just as both their blogs were gaining traction: Estelle’s focusing on healthy ‘pure’ recipes, Christina’s on balancing motherhood with crafting. Out of all the people sitting around the table, it was Christina she felt most herself with, even more so than her own partner Seb.
But even Christina didn’t know much about Estelle’s background … and Estelle wanted to keep it that way.
‘You okay, gorgeous?’
She looked up to see her boyfriend frowning at her, his muscular frame filling the doorway of the kitchen, a serving spoon in his right hand.
She forced a smile onto her face. ‘I’m fine! Just thinking how lucky I am.’ She pulled her phone from her pocket and pointed it at him. ‘Hold that pose.’
She took a photo then shared it with her followers on Instagram with the caption: A new paddle for my Olympic rowing darling.
Seb rolled his eyes. ‘I’m just social media fodder for you.’
She gave him a peck on the cheek. ‘You need to stop looking so cute then, don’t you?’
She grabbed two bottles of wine from their fridge then walked into the dining room.
‘Who’s for some more wine?’ she asked. Everyone cheered in approval. She went around the table, topping up everyone’s glasses. When she got to her own glass, she added a dribble. She didn’t much like drinking, just the odd sip here and there.
‘Might want to calm down there, darling,’ Silvia said to her husband as he took a huge sip.
‘Oh please. We have a child-free night; I’m making the most of it,’ he replied.
‘Not a child-free morning though,’ Silvia reminded him.
‘Don’t remind me. Honestly, the stress of getting that girl up in the morning. You wait until you have a teenager,’ Giles said, quirking an eyebrow at Dean. ‘Nightmare.’
‘Oh come on, don’t exaggerate,’ Silvia countered. ‘She’s a dream compared to most teenagers …’ Her face darkened. ‘Like that TV presenter, Chris O’Farrell’s daughter. Did you hear about her running away?’ she asked.
Estelle thought of the brief glimpse of news she’d seen, the silver-haired presenter pleading to camera for his daughter to return.
‘I did,’ Estelle said with a sigh. ‘He must be so worried.’
‘I wish Annabelle would run away,’ Giles drawled.
‘Giles!’ Silvia exclaimed, flicking her serviette at her husband. ‘How could you?’
Estelle smiled at the banter between the couple. They were the publishing world’s most celebrated couple; it was still blowing her mind they were sat at her dinner table.
‘Admit it,’ Giles said. ‘She’s a nightmare at the moment.’
Silvia shook her head. ‘She’s a teenager. They’re supposed to be nightmares.’
‘Much like writers,’ Giles said with a raised eyebrow. ‘Bar present company, of course!’
‘I do apologise for my husband, Estelle,’ Silvia said. ‘He’s had particularly bad luck with his writers. He never quite believes it when I say mine are a dream to work with, especially you.’
Estelle quirked an eyebrow. ‘You weren’t thinking that when I made those changes to the proofs at the last minute.’
Silvia pretended to scold Estelle and Estelle laughed.
‘I’m intrigued, what bad luck have you had with your writers, Giles?’ Seb asked.
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