Fern Foster Inquest – Rowan Foster

Before lunch on Day One Fern’s younger sister, Rowan, swore an oath and read her statement to the court.

She said she was Fern’s younger sister by three years and that they were close growing up. She told the court that she was still young when Fern became unwell, and their relationship was complicated. She said that Fern always tried to be a good big sister.

Rowan told the court that in the years before Fern died they would see each other every month or so. She recalled bus trips together and discussing literature.

She said that she was not involved with Fern’s care and support but she “knew from family, and from Fern herself, that Fern struggled to get the help she needed”. Rowan told the court that herself and Fern would speak quite openly about mental health and autism.

In late 2019 Rowan had an operation and stayed at her mum, Dominique’s, after she was discharged. She told the court that she was at home for the first week or so after Fern had had her baby. She said that she saw Fern bond with her baby, and her mum supporting her. Shortly after she returned to her own home, and was then not able to see Fern and her baby as much as she wished due to her own health.

Rowan told the court that she knew once Fern did not have her baby in her care, she really struggled to stay connected with her. She told the court that Fern was sure that social services would take her baby away, and that this made Fern anxious and hesitant to form any further attachment to her child.

She recalled speaking to Fern around March 2020 and she told the court that Fern had told her that she was exhausted and “couldn’t keep doing this”, which Rowan took to mean the endless meetings with social services.

Rowan said Fern had explained to her that she had to tell herself that her baby wasn’t real, and that things hadn’t happened, in order for her to be able to cope. Rowan told the court that there was a real change in Fern around this time. That she seemed both dissociated and resigned to there being no hope. Fern was able to discuss her suicidal thoughts with Rowan in a calm manner, and Rowan recalled a conversation where Fern spoke to her about what she wanted to happen at her funeral. Rowan told the court that she had questioned Fern to ascertain how much she had thought about death, she said whereas previously Fern had harmed herself impulsively, Rowan felt this was very different.

Rowan said that at about this time she felt Fern became more selfish, and appeared to care less about what other people thought. She was pushing people away. Rowan told the court about a conversation she overheard between Fern and her mother about suicidality, where Fern sounded very angry. She said that this wasn’t like Fern.

Rowan told the court that she found out Fern had purchased something online, she did not know the specifics but knew that it was not illegal. She said that she was not surprised to learn from the police of Fern’s purchase in March 2020, or that Fern had been browsing material online about suicide from then until her death.

Rowan told the court that the last time she thinks she saw Fern was when they attended a Black Lives Matter protest together, in June 2020. She said being an activist, standing up to injustice and caring for others was important to Fern “It was who Fern was”.

Rowan told the court that Fern shared her struggles with mental health services on Twitter as part of her activism, and that she was not surprised that she did not post about what was happening to social services and with her baby, as “social services involvement is highly stigmatised”. Rowan said she believes that is why Fern’s tweets did not mention social services.

Rowan told the court that she has no doubt Fern intended to end her own life, and that she also had no doubt this decision was because her baby was being adopted. She said that Fern was tired and exhausted from not being able to access any support.

I believe that she saw no other way out of her situation and the pain it caused her.

Rowan told the court when the police arrived at her door to inform her that Fern had died, she instantly knew that her sister had died.

Rowan said that Fern would be happy to see changes made by the services who were supposed to support her.

All she wanted was to be given the right care, and to live a good life. Although it is too late for her, she would want it for others.

Rowan told the court that she welcomed the approach of Oxford Health who had taken some accountability and responsibility.

However, I can not say the same for Buckinghamshire Council … [we] want accountability, understanding, and more than anything else, change.

The coroner thanked Rowan for her statement, passed on his best wishes and thanked her for everything she had done in court yesterday (earlier in the day she had read the family’s pen portrait which is available here).

Court then adjourned for lunch.

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