Many people gathered at the chapel at Manor Park Cemetery in East London waiting for the coffins of 24-year-old Esther and four-year-old Chadrack to arrive. White coffins, one heartbreakingly smaller than the other, were covered in flowers. Friends and neighbors wore shirts with photographs of Esther and Chadrack. But amid all the sadness there were haunting questions about the horrifying circumstances surrounding the mother and his son’s deaths.
In November 2016, Esther Eketi-Mulo, 24-years-old, and her son Chadrack, 4-years-old, were found dead in a flat on Trelawney Estate in Hackney, East London. When they were found, they were already dead for over two weeks. Esther died suddenly from an epileptic fit at her flat in October. Her poor son, young Chadrack, who suffered from autism and head many severe disabilities including being mute, could not raise the alarm. Without any help, he died of starvation two weeks later. He was found hanging onto his mother’s decomposing body…
The boy’s school, Morningside Primary in Hackney, sent people to visit the flat to find out the reason for Chadrack’s absence – he didn’t come to school since the end of September. Because Esther had already passed away at that point, no-one could respond to the call via the downstairs intercom. After two visits, the school gave up on trying to contact Chadrack and his mother. The school called Esther’s mobile phone multiple times, a standard practice in primary and secondary schools across the UK, but of course, Esther could not answer the phone. Because the only number school had was Esther’s the school could not further contact other people to check-up on the mother and son.
Esther’s family also called her, but could not reach her. They thought it did not mean anything serious. Not long before her death, Esther separated from her long-term boyfriend. Naturally, Esther’s family thought she might want some time alone to recover. Meanwhile, upstairs in the apartment, neighbors were also unaware of the horror unfolding behind the door. People saw and heard nothing to give them any reason to worry about Esther and Chadrack/ Distressingly, neighbors didn’t recognize the smell of decomposition emanating from the flat after Esther’s death and put it down to cooking smells.
‘It haunts me that I could have helped and I didn’t know. That little boy passed away because he was hungry. I keep thinking: Did I hear anything?’ — an anguished neighbor
In the end, it was Esther’s uncle who came to her flat to find out why she is not answering his calls. He said from the smell he could immediately sense something that was wrong. He called the police who made a forced entry and found the dead mother and son. According to the coroner’s findings, Chadrack had probably died just a couple of days before they found his body.
Some believe that given Chadrack’s disability, social services should have been more involved in his welfare. ‘I blame the school and social services,’ says the friend. ‘For nobody to go to the home for over two weeks, it doesn’t make sense. Someone should have checked.’ Nonetheless, all this finger-pointing will do nothing to bring the two people back.
Morningside headteacher Janet Taylor says she has ‘worked closely with the authorities’ to consider ‘what more schools can do in situations like this’. She implemented a new system to record telephone number of three different adults on each child’s file. If a child fails to attend school, and all three adults do not answer the call, a member of staff is immediately sent to the family home. If they cannot get an answer, they will contact the police without delay. In a statement, Ms. Taylor said: ‘Chadrack’s tragic death has devastated all those who knew him. We will remember him as a happy little boy.’
Coroner Mary Hassell, who investigated the case, said: ‘This protocol seems very sensible but is clearly driven by the appalling tragedy of Chadrack’s death. It seems unlikely that other schools in Hackney, elsewhere in London, or indeed in the rest of England and Wales, have such a system in place. In my opinion, action should be taken to prevent future deaths.’ Her report was sent to Robert Goodwill MP, the Minister of State for Children and Families.
He says: ‘This is a heart-breaking case and our thoughts are with all who knew Chadrack and his mother. Any concerns about a child’s welfare should be shared with social services or the police. We have written to the coroner and are immediately considering how to amend our guidance on school attendance and welfare to ensure it is as robust as possible.’
All this come far too late for Chadrack and Esther, but if any good can emerge from this tragedy it must surely be that the correct safeguards are now put in place to prevent anything like it from happening ever again.