Legal fight to force-feed daughter cost pounds 20,000

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THE BAGGY jumpers told David Carter that his 16-year-old daughter Vicki was anorexic. She wore two or three at once and only by touching her could he know the secret she kept from him.

She took cereal bars to school and told him they were her breakfast. He began finding them in the dustbin. She exercised obsessively. He found the tins of baked beans she used as weights, discarded behind the television.

Anorexia's grip on the Carter family, of Stockport, Greater Manchester, has taken Mr Carter to the High Court where he fought a legal battle with his daughter to have her force-fed. He won, though the family's legal costs were pounds 20,000. Mr Carter said yesterday that the money had saved his daughter from certain death and told how the anorexic in her "wouldn't listen to reason". It had, he said, split her personality and almost delivered her to "the flat line you see when someone dies".

His daughter was as intelligent and animated as any pupil at Stockport School until this year. She enjoyed preparing food and adored Ferrero Rocher chocolates. She was passionate about animals, the band REM, the local Stockport County football team and had ambitions to pass the nine GCSEs she was sitting in June and work in a children's nursery like her mother, Linda. That was before January, when Vicki seemed to go off colour.

She had already told her elder sister that she was anorexic but said nothing at a GP's appointment, which was organised by her parents. The GP diagnosed glandular fever and it was April before Vicki could hide her weight no longer. It was to fall from eight and a half stones to five.

Vicki exercised to aerobics videos at 6am while the rest of the family was asleep and to the meals she skipped. She refused to take her usual packed lunch - a sandwich and a bag of crisps - to school and at suppertime said she would eat later but never did. The Clarks found themselves listening for signs of her being sick, though she never was.

Doctors at Stepping Hill, hospital, Manchester, diagnosed anorexia nervosa in June, by which time Vicki was beginning to suffer osteoporosis. Renal failure began in July as she digested only 200 calories of dry toast a day and she was admitted to a children's ward at Stepping Hill. As she refused to be fed, a hospital psychiatrist resisted seeking a Mental Health Act order to feed her.

Vicki agreed to take fluid via a tube, on 4 August, but took to disconnecting the tube during the night. Though her waist circumference was 151/2 inches,she was desperate to leave the hospital.

In August, the hospital took legal action. The Clarks, who have two other teenage daughters, supported the decision though Vicki, represented by the solicitors Pannone & Partners, told her father she would fight. "When you go down to five stone your brain ceases to function properly," said Mr Clark. "We were dealing with Vicki the anorexic. Her solicitor said he wanted to see Vicki well. All we wanted was... to have our little girl."

The hospital won the right to force-feed her, which seems to have been a turning point. Now, at a clinic in Prestbury, Greater Manchester, Vicki Carter sits down each day to meals of baked or mashed potatoes, pizzas, vegetables, pasta and vegetable samosas. By eating 2,800 calories a day, her weight should increase by 2.2 pounds a week and if her progress has satisfied doctors, she will be allowed to spend Christmas Day and Boxing Day with her family. She is studying for an A-level in psychology and resitting her GCSE maths exam, during which she fainted in June. (She passed eight others.)

Mr Carter said yesterday he wanted to give other parents the courage to be bold. "We had to take this step to save her life. [Vicki] is not consumed with guilt and our relationship is good. You can't give in," he said.