Parents tell inquest of “descent into hell” after daughter spent more than a decade battling anorexia

Emma Brown was found dead at her home in Cambourne in August 2018.

Emma Brown was found dead at her home in Cambourne in August 2018. - Credit: Archant

The parents of a 27 year-old from Cambourne who died following a 14-year battle with anorexia, have spoken about the difficulties around the illness, and how it consumed their daughter’s life.

At the inquest into Emma Brown's death, parents Simon Brown and Jayne Edmunds-Grezio spoke about their "bright, driven and frighteningly clever" daughter who started showing signs of anorexia at the age of 13.

The inquest, which is being held at Huntingdon Town Hall, heard how Emma had been found dead at her home in Cambourne on August 22, 2018 just days after discharging herself from a two-month stay in Addenbrooke's Hospital.

Coroner, Sean Horstead told the inquest that a post-mortem examination recorded her medical cause of death as lung and heart disease, with anorexia and bulimia nervosa as contributory factors.

The former Longsands Academy student, who was the eldest of three children, had been diagnosed with an eating disorder in her teenage years, and then at the age of 18, was diagnosed with a personality disorder. She had been receiving treatment on and off since her diagnosis.

Giving evidence at the inquest, which is set to last for eight days, Mr Brown said: "Emma was really a remarkable kid. At the age of one she managed to sing me 'happy birthday'. At primary school it was great, she was a born leader, but as she got older it became more of a problem. As she got older she became harder to deal with. She was driven, smart and a perfectionist and all of those traits are exactly what feeds anorexia.

"She was at a different school but in her first year got heavily bullied. We then moved her to a school in St Neots, but by her thirteenth birthday she ha been diagnosed with anorexia. Since then it was a descent into hell."

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Emma then received treatment at a variety of different hospitals around the country, including the Phoenix Centre in Cambridge.

However, no matter what treatment Emma was given, she would always find herself consumed by the illness again and Mr Brown said that from the age of 17 she was "close to death".

"My biggest regret is the early intervention. If we could have caught this earlier on, it could have been different. She was an A-star student, her teachers would comment on how well she was doing, especially in art and English," Mr Brown said.

The inquest then heard how Emma had also been talented when it came to sport, and was a keen runner, running for 15 miles a day. She was also a member of Swans Swimming Club, in St Neots.

Emma trained with the Bedford Harriers running club under the coaching of Paula Radcliffe's former coach Alex Stanton and won an under-18 British cross-country championships, her mum told the inquest.

As time went on Emma continued to be in and out of treatment, but was still was losing weight rapidly.

At one point, Emma was stealing thousands of pounds from her parents, spending the money in her favourite restaurants.

By 18, Emma went through a period of sleeping rough before moving to a flat in Cambourne. At this time there were a number of hospital admissions, including a two-year stay in a unit in Surrey.

When she was at home in the final months of her life she relied on the two three-hour home visits a week from support workers.

"Every time Emma would relapse she would spiral deep into the depths of the illness," Ms Edmunds-Grezio told the inquest.

"Emma would always fight it - she wasn't equipped to do it. I don't think she ever wanted to die, but I think she accepted it."

The hearing also heard how Emma was a "master at manipulating the system to enable her to carry on doing what she was doing".

Ms Edmunds-Grezio said: "She lost a battle that she fought for a very long time, and it won. Emma didn't starve herself to be skinny, she did it because the illness frightened her into a state that she was fearful for not being an anorexic person.

"Emma to start with was Emma and then we had Emma with anorexia. As the years went on she was just Emma with anorexia."

Mr Brown has said that he wishes to work with the authorities to help improve treatment for eating disorders.

"We are so thankful for the help that we had over the 10 years from staff at many different hospitals."

Emma's death was one of five fatalities of patients with anorexia who were being treated by various NHS services in the East of England region between 2012 and 2018.

The deaths have not yet been linked by the coroner.

If you are affected by any of the issues in this story, you can talk to eating disorders charity Beat by calling its adult helpline on: 0808 801 0677 or youth helpline on 0808 801 0711.