Tragic tale of a child unwanted from day of her birth

Lauren Wright case: Girl became a pawn in her parents' volatile relationship and suffered years of abuse by her stepmother
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The Independent Online

In the churchyard at South Mimms – a village best known for its motorway service station – a small grave marks the spot where a six-year-old girl is laid to rest.

With its plain wooden cross, a small toy Piglet distinguishes it as the grave of a child among the other ornate, ivy-covered, stone memorials. The carefully tended plot stands in horrific contrast to the short, brutal life that ended at the hands of an abusive stepmother and father.

Family friends recall the silent suffering she endured during a life of unimaginable suffering. "She was like a little puppy, affectionate and grateful for any attention – a beautiful little girl with blue eyes and a soft complexion," recalled John Chapman.

But even by the time Lauren was born on 16 July 1993, at the QE2 Hospital in Welwyn Garden City, Hertfordshire, she was unwanted.

Her parents had separated and Craig Wright, her father, demanded a blood test before accepting the baby was his. Lauren's mother, Jennifer Bennett, who has since admitted she "wasn't the best mother in the world", cared little for her daughter.

Lauren soon became a pawn in her parents' volatile relationship. During their frequent separations, Ms Bennett would telephone Wright and threaten to hit Lauren unless he came to visit.

As she grew up, Lauren was often left alone at the unheated garage workshop where Wright worked, or literally dumped at the local pub. The "delightful, chatty girl" became an object of pity and charity.

There were also suggestions of sexual abuse – although never substantiated – described by the child in a videotaped police interview in November 1999. No action was ever taken.

But amid the bleakness there was some light. On occasions Craig Wright would take his daughter to visit her grandmother, Christine, and her aunts Dawn and Vicky, at the Red Hart pub they ran in Three Holes, Norfolk.

It was after one such outing, shortly before Lauren's fourth birthday, that a fateful telephone conversation took place. Dawn Wright recalled: "She said 'Hello Mummy. Do you still love me?'

"Jenny replied 'No, I hate you'. The look on that child's face was enough to make your heart break. She sobbed her heart out."

Lauren never went home.

Hertfordshire Social Services placed her on a child protection register between July 1997 and January 1998 and a custody battle ended with her grandmother being granted a full residency order for her in January 1998. But the pub failed by May 1998 and with it Lauren's brief happiness as she rejoined her father.

Wright had since moved to Welney in Norfolk from Potters Bar. His mother and youngest sister, Vicky, were also rehoused in the village.

Next door lived Tracey Scarff – a brash, abrasive, single mother-of-two with an unenviable local reputation. She eventually formed a relationship with a "besotted" Wright.

Dawn Wright explained: "I actually liked her. I thought she was fun, quite easy going. She made Craig happy."

But the little girl continued to see her mother, and in May 1999, set off for a holiday in Turkey with Ms Bennett, her boyfriend of the time, and three of their children.

The holiday was to turn into a nightmare as the mother continued to vent her fury on Lauren, eventually dumping her at the British consulate before scratching her photograph from her passport.

Christine Wright and her daughters collected the bewildered child when she arrived back at Gatwick. Ms Bennett, returning on the same flight, never even said goodbye.

But a more malevolent force awaited her. Within a couple of months of moving in together, Craig and Tracey announced their engagement and Lauren, who idolised her new stepmother, was made a bridesmaid. Lauren Wright would be dead within the year.

The abuse at the hands of Tracey Wright had started some months earlier and as the terror escalated, Lauren became a familiar bedraggled figure, walking 10 feet behind Wright and her own son and daughter, carrying the other children's bags, soaked in the rain while they gathered under an umbrella. Although Tracey Wright took to humiliating her husband in public, it was Lauren who bore the brunt of her brash, crude manner in private.

The girl was forced to eat pepper sandwiches or insects, made to stand in front of burning fires and beaten for wetting her bed. She was ignored as Tracey Wright bought her own children sweets and presents.

The moment the children returned from school, Lauren was sent to bed. At home, her stepmother encouraged the other children to pick on their quieter stepsister.

Lauren began to lose weight, her hair started falling out. On hot days she boiled in shabby clothes large enough to cover her bruises.

Either too scared or too in awe of the woman she called "Mum", Lauren mimicked her stepmother's endless stream of explanations for the injuries, even when she was seen by a string of doctors and social workers.

On 15 March 2000, she was seen by a consultant paediatrician, Dr Jonathan Dossetor, at the request of social workers but agreed with the litany of excuses used for her injuries by her stepmother.

Over the months, teachers, four different doctors and two social workers saw the injuries to Lauren but insufficient action was taken to protect her.

Lauren was used to beatings but when Tracey Wright punched her viciously in the stomach in early May, part of her digestive system collapsed. She suffered days of agony and vomiting while her stepmother refused to take her to the doctor. Relatives accepted her excuses that a wardrobe had fallen on her and that she had gastroenteritis.

On the Thursday night before his child died, Craig Wright saw Lauren briefly in the bathroom. By now in intense pain, she simply asked for a glass of water.

On Saturday morning, Tracey Wright's young son saw her punch Lauren twice in the stomach.

At lunchtime, the stepmother came "crashing" into Lauren's grandmother's kitchen next door. Christine, Dawn and Vicky returned to find Lauren's body on the bottom bunk of her bedroom, one arm stiffly outstretched, foul smelling liquid pouring from her nose and mouth.

Tracey Wright remained downstairs, hysterically screaming, while Vicky went to get Craig from the pub.

Dawn and her mother tried to follow the ambulance operator's instructions, frantically attempting to breathe air into the blocked airways. As they lifted her shirt to start compressions, they noted bruising. By the time the ambulance arrived, rigor mortis had begun to set in.

The paramedic looked at the father, grandmother and aunt and said simply: "I am so sorry ..." Lauren Wright was dead.

That night her parents went to the pub.

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