October 18, 2009
EXCLUSIVE: She was starved to death and forgotten by the system but little Ebony once cherished these symbols of false parental love. Lisa Carty reports.
THESE are the cards that will break the heart of every parent - beautiful family mementoes which belie a devastating truth.
One is written to sisters who shared a birthday, just months before the younger girl, 7, died of starvation in her own home.
As her dad drew a heart and signed ''Love, Daddy and Mummy'', Ebony was a prisoner in a house infested with cockroaches, mice and spiders, strewn with rubbish, and reeking of human waste.
Nine days before the father wrote on this card, another in a long series of complaints about the family was made to the NSW Department of Community Services (DOCS).
That report was made by the Department of Housing, which was concerned about the filthy state of the Matraville house in which the family lived.
DOCS assessed the risk to the children to be ''high'', but its concerns were lost in a mire of red tape and seeming disinterest.
NSW Ombudsman Bruce Barbour said in a recent report DOCS simply lost sight of Ebony, and had repeatedly failed to respond to concerns about the family in the two years before the girl's death.
An internal DOCS report seen by The Sun-Herald concedes that at no time did DOCS have a ''holistic and well-articulated picture of the risk of harm'' for Ebony.
''In 2006 and for most of 2007 the family appear to have been largely invisible in their community,'' it said. ''They were living in a house that to the casual observer appeared deserted.''
In August 2007, the father, who had become increasingly evasive and more determined to keep his family from the outside world, bought a cheerful, pink ''World's greatest mum'' birthday card for his wife and wrote a loving salutation on behalf of his girls
''To the best mum in the world,'' he wrote, adding two hearts before signing his daughters' names.
About the same time the father, who wore fingerless gloves to cover the tattoos of the words ''evil'' and ''dead'' on his hands, applied for a private rental property at idyllic Hawks Nest at Port Stephens - the holiday spot favoured by former prime minister John Howard.
In his rental application, the father declared: ''I want a better life for my wife and kids.''
Two months later, on November 3, Ebony was dead in a bedroom of the new home, where her door had been tied shut and there were ropes on her bed. She had been forced to use the floor as a toilet.
Now her mother is in jail for life for her murder, her father is serving up to 16 years for manslaughter and her two older sisters have been fostered.
Their names and images have been suppressed by the court, which has allowed the little girl to be identified only by her second name.