Beloved child development expert and author Dr. Bonnie Pattinson was found dead in her North London home on November 11th, 2019, just three days after releasing a statement saying she was “overwhelmed with grief” following the suspicious death of one of her foster children.
The 67-year-old had been under intense media scrutiny since 2018, when she was accused of killing four-year-old Delaney Burke, whom she had been looking after while the child’s mother went to prison. (In the UK, it is a legal requirement that children in care must live with a responsible adult who is an approved carer. When a child’s mother goes to prison, the child must either be placed in care or handed over to relatives. According to the Press Association, an estimated 125,000 children in the UK are currently living with foster carers or relatives.)
The accusation that Pattinson had killed Burke came from the child’s uncle, who filed a missing person’s report after the little girl went missing in August 2018. The girl’s mother had given her phone to the uncle while she was in hospital following a suicide attempt. (In the UK, suicides among women in prison have more than doubled in recent years.)
Burke’s uncle said he had spoken to her the night before she disappeared and she seemed “okay.” However, he also told reporters that the last time he saw her, she had been “high on drugs.”
Police searched for Burke for more than a week before announcing they had no new leads to go on and that they were closing the case. But according to insiders, investigators were “certainly not ruling anything out,” suggesting that they possibly knew more about what had happened than they were letting on. It was also reported that, shortly after Burke went missing, police had searched her mother’s home and allegedly uncovered evidence that she had lied about knowing where the girl was.
Pattinson’s friends and family have rallied around her, saying in a statement that she was “a deeply kind and selfless woman who wanted to help children.”
But in light of her recent death, many people are now wondering whether or not she was guilty of murdering one of her foster children. In 2014, Burke was one of seven children that Pattinson had fostered, raising her in a home that she described as a “warm and loving environment.” (One of her neighbors has said that, while she was “always very pleasant” and “considerate,” it was “obvious she adored her children and doted on them.” According to neighbors, however, “there was one occasion where she was really over the top with her affectionate manner, to the extent that it became a bit alarming. We could all see she had a very large affectionate heart.”)
Following the publication of her statement, the chief commissioner of Social Services for England, Anne Longmore, released a short but carefully worded tribute to Pattinson, expressing her “deepest gratitude” for all that she had done for “our children and our society.” (Longmore has previously called Delaney’s uncle a “disgruntled ex-carer,” and suggested that, contrary to what he had alleged, it was not Pattinson but the child’s mother who had committed suicide.)
Meanwhile, Delaney’s mother, Tracy, has spoken out against her aunt, calling her one of the “best people” she had ever known and insisting she was innocent. (In the UK, it is a legal requirement that all witnesses to a crime must give evidence to the police. It is therefore likely that Tracy will now testify against Pattinson, though it is also possible that she could decline to do so, or give evidence that could exonerate her.)
As the anniversary of her alleged crime approaches, many are asking if she will ever be brought to justice. Speaking on the BBC’s Newsnight on November 12th, Burke’s uncle said that, while there is “a possibility that she will never be found guilty,” he hoped that police would “review their findings” and continue searching for the little girl’s killer. The case has also been featured in the British media, with The Guardian reporting in September 2019 that, although it is now “two years since Delaney went missing,” detectives “have not given up hope of finding out who killed her.”
If you have any information regarding the alleged murder of Delaney Burke, please contact the authorities. You can also find more details about the case at https://crimeauctions.org/en/news/did-bonnie-pattinson-kill-foster-child-2/.