The word ‘sisters’ never felt strong enough. Francesca Whyatt used to call her female siblings ‘womb-mates’.
There were four of them, born just minutes apart, strikingly similar physically (three of the quadruplets were identical), but very different in personality.
She was the baby of the four
Francesca was the baby, the most sensitive. ‘The sweetest of us,’ says Ellie, the second-born.
They were inseparable, the Whyatt girls, their lives entwined in a way that most people will never understand.
‘How many people in the world can say they are a quadruplet?’ asks Ellie, as her sisters nod. ‘It was something we were so proud of. It was a special thing, because you had ready-made friends for life.
‘At home, it was like having a permanent sleepover. We’d do congas round the house and have discos in the bedroom. Sometimes we’d swap clothes and delight in it when no-one realised.
‘We’d sleep in the same beds. I remember the first time I spent the night in a bedroom on my own. It felt so weird, so unnatural.
The last time they curled up on a bed together
‘It is unbearably sad to hear the sisters – three of them, now – recall the last time they curled up on a bed together. It was on the day, just over ten years ago, when Francesca died.
The setting was the hospital where ‘Frankie’, as they call her, had been rushed, by ambulance, after being found with a ligature around her neck.
She had been a patient in the Priory, the world-renowned mental health treatment centre, a favourite of the rich and famous.
Despite being on suicide-watch, and with a history of self-harming dating back to her teens, Francesca had managed to take her own life.
Attempts of taking her own life
There was little brain activity by the time she reached hospital. After three days, her life support machine was switched off. She – and her sisters – had just turned 21.
Shockingly, it was not the first time she had managed to inflict serious harm on herself at the clinic.
A previous incident had resulted in her requiring a skin graft. She had found a hacksaw which had been left on the ward – where many of the patients were on suicide-watch – by a workman.
This time, nothing could be done for her. ‘We were all there at the end,’ recalls Ellie.
‘We took turns sleeping on the bed with her, telling her how much we loved her.
Quadruplets no more
‘Now, we don’t tell anyone we are quadruplets because we aren’t four, we are three. Even answering a simple question like ‘Oh, are you sisters?’ is too difficult. I can’t even put into words what Francesca’s loss has done to this family.’
For ten years, the Whyatts have been convinced that Francesca was failed by the Priory, and have fought for answers about exactly how and why she died.
Earlier this month, their complaints were upheld, to a degree, when the Priory was fined £140,000 in court for effectively failing to keep Francesca safe.
The case, brought by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), exposed a ‘shambolic’ state of affairs on Emerald Ward, in the Roehampton clinic, where she was one of nine patients.