Desperate for care: the final hours of suicide girls

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The Independent Online

When Danielle Waddington emerged from her shift at the Wimpy burger bar on the beachfront at Southend-on-Sea late on Saturday night she was cursing with frustration at abuse she had suffered from unsavoury customers.

Sam Nicholls, one of her closest friends, said yesterday: "Danielle was not the sort of girl who took any crap. But ... she wanted to make a go of this job after all her problems. This was her chance to get back on track." For the 16-year-old, her first seven-hour shift waiting at tables was a step forward after years of mental health problems and dealing with the aftermath of a fractured family life.

Less than five hours after walking on to the seafront at the Essex resort, Danielle was dead. Her shattered body was found early on Sunday alongside that of Lisa Utton, 18, another victim of a broken home. The pair, who first met only days earlier, had fallen 120ft from a stairway window on the top floor of a block of flats, the apparent victims of what police believe was a spur-of-the-moment suicide pact.

They had both been under the supervision of social services and a mental health trust. In a statement yesterday, the agencies involved in the care of the girls - Southend Borough Council, Essex Social Services and the South Essex Partnership NHS Trust - said they were launching an investigation. They said: "The incident will be referred to the area child protection committees for consideration of a review of the involvement of all agencies. All agencies will continue to liaise closely as the police investigation continues."

The NHS trust, which provides psychiatric care in Southend, confirmed that Danielle had been one of its patients and said that it would "co-operate with all inquiries".

As the official investigations got under way, a picture emerged of the sad teenagers' family history and their struggle to lead stable lives.Friends of Danielle told The Independent she had tried to take her life once before but had made efforts in recent months to stabilise herself and fulfil her dream of becoming a hairdresser. But they also asked how, at 3.20am on Sunday, she could have climbed out of a narrow window and jumped to her death when she had a paralysing fear of heights. Ms Nicholls, 18, a childhood friend of Danielle, said: "If there was one thing Danielle hated, it was heights. You wouldn't have been able to get Danielle to look out of a first-floor window."

Danielle had finished her shift at 11.30pm. The teenager then met friends including Ms Nicholls and the group went to the town's gaudy amusement arcade, Monte Carlo, close to Southend pier, to drink and talk. By 1am Danielle, who had been prescribed anti-depressants, was drunk. Ms Nicholls said: "When she had a few drinks, Danielle would get sad. She talked about all her problems ... She got very drunk."

An ambulance was called at around 1.45am after Danielle collapsed, complaining of breathing difficulties. She was accompanied to Southend General Hospital by Lisa Utton, who had joined the group outside the arcade. Ms Nicholls said Lisa had only met Danielle twice. She said: "Lisa came along and said she would go in the ambulance. She kept on saying, 'She's ill, don't you know Danielle's ill?' All I know is that if I had made sure Danielle came home with me she would probably still be alive."

The two girls left the hospital within 10 minutes of their arrival, before nursing staff could assess either of them. They walked about half a mile from the hospital to Cecil Court, a well-kept 1960s tower block with a caretaker and intercom system.

The two gained entry to the block through the door buzzer and climbed past pristine lobby areas and up to the 50cm-wide window on the 11th floor stairwell. It was wide enough for one person to climb through at a time. Residents reported hearing two loud thuds that night.

A post-mortem examination yesterday showed Danielle and Lisa died from multiple injuries. Laboratory test results for drugs will not be known for six weeks. An Essex Police spokesman said: "There were no suspicious circumstances. Everything points towards this being a suicide pact."

Neither girl left a note or any other communication. But in the short time they knew each other it may be that the teenagers found they had much in common. At 13, Danielle had left the home she shared with her mother, Sue, and two younger brothers in nearby Wickford. She attended the town's comprehensive school but was then transferred to a special educational unit. Her emotional and behavioural problems meant she had regularly been seen by mental health professionals and was treated for two months in a residential unit in Southend this summer.

Lisa was taken into foster care at 13 after her relationship with her mother, Janet, 40, who has four other children, broke down. Her grandfather Barry Utton, 68, said: "Eighteen is no age - how did she end up like that? It was such a needless waste of life and it leaves so many unanswered questions for us."