A homeless teenage girl who died from an overdose of anti-depressants was banned from visiting her mother the night before her death, an inquest heard today.
Emma Canning Curran, 16, was left biting her hands in distress after a series of domestic rows and the final straw came when the order barring her arrived at her temporary home in Lurgan, Co Armagh, in January 2006.
Although Emma appeared to be fine the night before she died, she told her cousin Natasha Cairns of her hurt following restrictions on seeing mother Lesley Curran, 46, and stepfather Patrick Curran, 62.
“If my mum is letting him do this then when my mum decides she wants to see me I won’t be anywhere near her,” she said.
An expert witness at the Craigavon inquest criticised social services for failing to intervene and said the troubled trainee hairdresser had been denied a voice before taking the lethal quantity of tablets.
Emma, who allegedly also tried to take a drugs overdose weeks before she died, was suffering from depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, medical reports said.
She was living at the home of her aunt Gilda Cairns when she was discovered not breathing and sprawled across her bed in Irwin Gardens.
Despite frantic efforts to resuscitate her she was pronounced dead a short time later in hospital.
State pathologist Professor Jack Crane said a dose as low as 10 anti-depressant tablets could have caused the heart irregularities which killed her.
Speaking after the inquest, her mother said she felt betrayed.
“The system let me down, if they had listened to me she would still be here today,” she said.
“I will always remember that she loved me and that she spoke to me every day to give me strength to go on.”
Emma had been running away from home and according to her stepfather covered her mother in up to 20 bruises.
Coroner Suzanne Anderson said: “She didn’t give any indication that she intended to take her own life. I am not so sure that this was not a cry for help from Emma, a cry for help and understanding.
“It was no doubt very distressing for her to be served with the non-molestation order in respect of the stepfather and this would have meant that she would not have had access to her mother as well.”
Mrs Curran burst into tears as she recalled that her daughter, who had lost weight, was prone to running away, and suffered from a painful undiagnosed kidney disease.
She said the non-molestation order was taken out to protect her.
“She was too young to be left to run the streets,” she added.
She recalled one incident days before her death after she had been told to leave the family home.
“Emma appeared to be upset and was crying and biting at her hand.”
Emma had been seen by doctors since 2003 after bouts of depression, difficulties at home and mood swings which medics said were linked to social rather than mental health factors.
She did report hearing voices in her head and was alleged by her stepfather to have left her mother covered in bruises.
An expert who reviewed the case after her death, Ronnie Williamson, said there should be changes to the social services system in the North.
“There should be a development of advocacy services for children, giving priority for children who are homeless,” he said.
“In other words, she would have a voice, someone to speak up for her in Northern Ireland... hopefully the Government will take that on board.”
He said there was an allegation that she had been sexually abused by a 14-year-old in 2003.
Mr Williamson, chairman of the case management review panel which investigated the death, added that a more interventionist stance should have been adopted by social workers.
Emma spent time at a homeless hostel in Co Down, but ended up living with her aunt, Gilda Cairns, where she was found dead.
Earlier that month, the victim had a row with her mother when she refused to guarantee her rent agreement, grabbed some tablets and went upstairs. Doctors were called but no overdose took place.
Coroner Ms Anderson found that the victim died from Dothiepin poisoning.