Boy, 3, survived on crisps in 14-day vigil with dead mother

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The Independent Online

Three-year-old Michael McGarrity was yesterday recovering in hospital after being discovered in a "painfully thin" condition next to his mother's body at their fifth-floor flat in Edinburgh.

He was too small to open the front door but was able to push the mail back through the post box, in what may have been an attempt to raise the alarm. Unable to reach the cupboards full of food, the boy fed himself on crisps and fruit juice.

It was not until his nursery finally alerted his grandmother that he had not attended for two weeks that she called the police.

Officers broke down the door of their flat in Leith, Edinburgh, on Saturday to find the body of 33-year-old Anne-Marie McGarrity in the living room alongside her emaciated and dehydrated three-year-old boy.

Michael was yesterday watching Bob the Builder and playing with his Incredibles toys at the Royal Hospital for Sick Children in Edinburgh, as questions were being asked as to how it took so long to discover the death and stranded child.

The boy's uncle, Keiran McGarrity, said: "Michael is improving every day and we are glad he is getting better. He is beginning to tell us a bit about what happened but it is very early days and it will be a long time before we know the whole story. This has been a devastating time for the whole family."

Last night it was unclear how Ms McGarrity, described by neighbours as a devoted single mother, had died. The police said that there was no indication of suspicious circumstances.

Michael's grandmother Eleanor McGarrity said: "[Michael] was like a skeleton on Saturday night. He was very, very weak and very thin. He is still lethargic and sleepy and his speech is affected because of the dehydration. But we are confident he will make a full recovery. He is such a brave wee soul."

Next-door neighbour Moira Chisholm, 56, said: "I rapped on the door a couple of times. I don't know why Michael didn't stand at the back of the door and yell.

"We would have broken the door down to get to him."

She said: "The mail was coming back out through the door and in retrospect I think it might have been Michael trying to attract attention.

I called the postman, to ask him to put the mail right through in case she was away. He did put it through but later it was back out again."

Yesterday Edinburgh City Council said it would be reviewing its absence procedures at nurseries after it was found that the toddler's absence was not reported for two weeks.

A spokesman for the council said: "While it must be recognised that there is no requirement for a child to attend nursery, this situation shows that it is very important to establish the reasons why a child is not attendingIn the light of this, we will be reviewing our absence procedures."

Mark Lazarowicz, Labour MP for Edinburgh North and Leith, called for an investigation into the incident. He said: "We have got to find out whether there could have been some way of preventing an awful tragedy.

"But it is wrong to jump to conclusions - [we need to] find out what happened and see what lessons can be learned."