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Rachel Thorp, Alex, Dad, Denise O'Donnell, Rochdale

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AS her stepmum lay dying, teenager Rachel Thorp vowed she would keep the family together and look after her four little brothers and sisters. Three months later her father also passed away and Rachel, 19, took on the role of mum to the youngsters, one a baby of four months. Now, after a legal fight, the family are to be split up and Rachel is devastated". An aunt - her father's sister - has won custody of one boy of 11. A cousin of her dad's has been given the two youngest - a two-year-old girl and boy aged one. Rachel's guardianship of her 15-year-old brother was not disputed and he stays with his sister, now 20. The children are to be separated because none of the relatives felt able to cope with all of them. Rachel, who fought every inch of the way for them, said: "I'm devastated. I made a promise to my stepmum when she was in a coma. "I told her I'd be there for Dad and the kids no matter what happened. "I promised Dad too when he was in hospital. But if the court thinks they would be better off with these family members then I suppose that is the best thing. It's so sad, though... things like not having my sister around. Sisters are so special. "I admit it was hard looking after all the children but I thought I was doing a pretty good job. Still, the court said I was just too young to look after such a big family." Rachel's stepmother Denise O'Donnell died aged 35 in March 2006 following complications in childbirth. Devastated dad Alex, 41, a mechanic, then died from septicaemia after cutting a hand. Rachel and her brother Daniel, 21, who also helped out at the family home in Rochdale, Lancs, are Alex's children by his estranged wife Christine Thorp, 38. The others are Alex and Denise's from their 17-year relationship. Rachel had been living with her mum Christine but moved in to help her dad after Denise's death. When Alex died, relatives felt Rachel was too young to take on such a burden and gained interim custody orders. But the devoted teenager fought to get them back. She said at the time: "I can handle the responsibility. I have to be brave for the kids and I've a lot of support from family and friends." But last week magistrates at a family court hearing in Rochdale agreed with the relatives. The 11-year-old boy's new home is in North Wales, the two little ones live in Blackburn. Rachel, who gave up her job as a barmaid to care for the children, will be able to visit them up to six times per year. She said: "I did my best. From the outset all I wanted to do was the best for my brothers and sisters and to help them to remember their mother and father. "I have to accept the decision and I don't bear my family any ill feelings. "Whatever the future holds I know we'll all stay in touch. "I want us to be a big extended family with fond memories of everybody. "We are all meeting up to discuss where things go from here. "I have had to grow up a lot in the past few months. I have learned a lot about myself and other people. "I just hope now we can all stay in touch and keep meeting up." "

More Information
Color Color
Keywords 2000s,2007,Family Life,Mother,Children,Child Custody
Credit Mirrorpix / GIW Photos
Year 2006
Model Released No
Property Released No

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