MP replied to teenager’s letter months after death

Martha Fernback

Martha Fernback

First published in News
Last updated
Oxford Mail: Photograph of the Author by , Reporter covering Abingdon and Wantage, South Oxford and Kennington. Call me on 01865 425431

OXFORD West and Abingdon MP Nicola Blackwood accidentally responded to a 15-year-old girl’s letter eight months after the girl’s death made national headlines.

Martha Fernback died on July 20 last year after taking half a gram of ecstasy in Hinksey Park, South Oxford.

Her case has received national attention, partly because of her mother Anne-Marie Cockburn’s campaign to have drugs legalised and regulated.

Martha wrote to Ms Blackwood in March last year for a GCSE citizenship project on mental health.

The MP said her office did not receive the letter until March 20 this year, and then replied to it because they thought it could not be the same Martha Fernback.

Miss Cockburn, 43, said: “I was incredulous. This was pretty unpleasant.

“I thought ‘you take 14 months to respond to a letter?’ “Martha had kept saying to me ‘Mum, I haven’t got a response’, but in the aftermath of her death I kind of forgot about it.

“I’m not going to be egotistical and think Martha’s name is important to everyone, but does it just mean that teenagers can die and just be disposable and people think ‘I don‘t want to deal with that subject’?”

It is understood all post going to the Houses of Parliament goes through several stages for security reasons.

Ms Blackwood said: “I have spoken to Mrs Cockburn and apologised for the distress my letter must inevitably have caused.

“As I explained to her, my office only received Martha's letter on March 20, 2014. Because the letter arrived so many months after Martha’s death and was undated and signed by a second individual, I am afraid I did not realise it was from her and simply replied to it as best I could.

“I have offered Mrs Cockburn my help as her local MP in bringing her campaign to the attention of the Government.”

Miss Cockburn, who lives in Summertown, is recruiting MPs’ help in her national campaign to have drugs legalised and safely regulated.

Miss Cockburn said the letter from Ms Blackwood was “very detailed” and “incredibly thorough”.

She added: “What Nicola did without realising it was emphasise the need to be involved with your community.

“Any MP in her position is going to be mortified, mainly for themselves.

“I have had numerous shocks over the last 11 months, or else this would have been a lot more serious.”

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Comments (6)

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10:26am Sat 28 Jun 14

shippondame says...

It is not the first time this MP has been late replying to a constituent's letter.
It is not the first time this MP has been late replying to a constituent's letter. shippondame
  • Score: -2

10:43am Sat 28 Jun 14

Man on the Green says...

At least she bothers replying. Her predecessor only very rarely did.
At least she bothers replying. Her predecessor only very rarely did. Man on the Green
  • Score: 3

1:21pm Sat 28 Jun 14

mytaxes says...

I can't agree more, Nicola Blackwood has replied to all my letters in a short time. Evan Harris lost my vote as he did not bother to reply to letters.
I can't agree more, Nicola Blackwood has replied to all my letters in a short time. Evan Harris lost my vote as he did not bother to reply to letters. mytaxes
  • Score: 4

10:41am Sun 29 Jun 14

Man on the Green says...

How sad that Ms Cockburn has chosen to focus on the negative rather than highlight how her lovely daughter's letter has meant that her campaign for a re-look at the way in which society views and deals with drugs has gained new life as a result of this strange mistake (one for which Ms Blackwood clearly cannot in any way be blamed), and that we are not only once again thinking of the circumstances in which this girl so tragically lost her life, but also thinking about and remembering her too.

Of course this cruel twist of fate doesn't mean "that teenagers can die and just be disposable and people think 'I don't want to deal with that subject'," any more than it means that Ms Blackwood is not involved with her community (as Ms Cockburn bizarrely suggests). Indeed, it is almost the other way round.

I'm sure that the MP is indeed mortified, but not for herself, as Ms Cockburn ungraciously claims, but rather for the distress that this truly unfortunate example of the "law of vexation" at work must have caused the girl's family.

The reply she received from Ms Blackwood was (as Ms Cockburn rather grudgingly admits) "very detailed" and incredibly thorough". Surely these are qualities that she should be seeking to harness in her campaign for a rethink on the regulation of drugs (and indeed on mental health, the subject of her daughter's original letter) by using this strange echo of her late daughter's voice "from beyond the grave" to highlight the dilemmas around drugs and try and get Ms Blackwood on board?

A final query: when did Summertown move to West Oxford?
How sad that Ms Cockburn has chosen to focus on the negative rather than highlight how her lovely daughter's letter has meant that her campaign for a re-look at the way in which society views and deals with drugs has gained new life as a result of this strange mistake (one for which Ms Blackwood clearly cannot in any way be blamed), and that we are not only once again thinking of the circumstances in which this girl so tragically lost her life, but also thinking about and remembering her too. Of course this cruel twist of fate doesn't mean "that teenagers can die and just be disposable and people think 'I don't want to deal with that subject'," any more than it means that Ms Blackwood is not involved with her community (as Ms Cockburn bizarrely suggests). Indeed, it is almost the other way round. I'm sure that the MP is indeed mortified, but not for herself, as Ms Cockburn ungraciously claims, but rather for the distress that this truly unfortunate example of the "law of vexation" at work must have caused the girl's family. The reply she received from Ms Blackwood was (as Ms Cockburn rather grudgingly admits) "very detailed" and incredibly thorough". Surely these are qualities that she should be seeking to harness in her campaign for a rethink on the regulation of drugs (and indeed on mental health, the subject of her daughter's original letter) by using this strange echo of her late daughter's voice "from beyond the grave" to highlight the dilemmas around drugs and try and get Ms Blackwood on board? A final query: when did Summertown move to West Oxford? Man on the Green
  • Score: 8

1:01pm Sun 29 Jun 14

campokid says...

Don't agree with the criticism of Evan Harris. When he was MP, he really helped me obtain redress from British Gas, which had retained for over 18 months, more than £110 paid by standing order by my 90 year old Mother in Law, prior to giving up the flat in Abingdon, where she lived until going in to an Old Folks Home. Laidlaw claimed that tardiness in repaying money owed to an elderly lady, should not be compared to his eagerness to pay himself a massive bonus on an already gross Salary. Mr Harris was able to put pressure on him & his staff were speedy, courteous & efficient. Perhaps those critical of him are trying to blacken his name in anticipation of next year's election? I have no axe to grind - I live in Spain now, but once lived in Abingdon.
Don't agree with the criticism of Evan Harris. When he was MP, he really helped me obtain redress from British Gas, which had retained for over 18 months, more than £110 paid by standing order by my 90 year old Mother in Law, prior to giving up the flat in Abingdon, where she lived until going in to an Old Folks Home. Laidlaw claimed that tardiness in repaying money owed to an elderly lady, should not be compared to his eagerness to pay himself a massive bonus on an already gross Salary. Mr Harris was able to put pressure on him & his staff were speedy, courteous & efficient. Perhaps those critical of him are trying to blacken his name in anticipation of next year's election? I have no axe to grind - I live in Spain now, but once lived in Abingdon. campokid
  • Score: 0

1:17pm Sun 29 Jun 14

mytaxes says...

campokid wrote:
Don't agree with the criticism of Evan Harris. When he was MP, he really helped me obtain redress from British Gas, which had retained for over 18 months, more than £110 paid by standing order by my 90 year old Mother in Law, prior to giving up the flat in Abingdon, where she lived until going in to an Old Folks Home. Laidlaw claimed that tardiness in repaying money owed to an elderly lady, should not be compared to his eagerness to pay himself a massive bonus on an already gross Salary. Mr Harris was able to put pressure on him & his staff were speedy, courteous & efficient. Perhaps those critical of him are trying to blacken his name in anticipation of next year's election? I have no axe to grind - I live in Spain now, but once lived in Abingdon.
No need to blacken his name. He did help some, however, there are lots of people who wrote to him and received no reply. One person told me he was nicknamed Postman Pat because he never replied. I followed his speeches in parliament and agreed with him on most of what he said.
[quote][p][bold]campokid[/bold] wrote: Don't agree with the criticism of Evan Harris. When he was MP, he really helped me obtain redress from British Gas, which had retained for over 18 months, more than £110 paid by standing order by my 90 year old Mother in Law, prior to giving up the flat in Abingdon, where she lived until going in to an Old Folks Home. Laidlaw claimed that tardiness in repaying money owed to an elderly lady, should not be compared to his eagerness to pay himself a massive bonus on an already gross Salary. Mr Harris was able to put pressure on him & his staff were speedy, courteous & efficient. Perhaps those critical of him are trying to blacken his name in anticipation of next year's election? I have no axe to grind - I live in Spain now, but once lived in Abingdon.[/p][/quote]No need to blacken his name. He did help some, however, there are lots of people who wrote to him and received no reply. One person told me he was nicknamed Postman Pat because he never replied. I followed his speeches in parliament and agreed with him on most of what he said. mytaxes
  • Score: -4

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