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Rooms trashed, graffiti on the walls and a 30k repair bill: What happens when your teenager puts their little party on FacebookEsther Hines, 56, says she was only expecting a maximum of 30 guestsShe even locked alcohol away as daughter Sarah celebrated 15th birthdayBut a crowd of around 800 teens turned up and destroyed the houseMother said: 'I feel like our entire lives has been trashed'
08:50 GMT, 15 December 2012
Ruin: Esther Hines's house in Billericay, Essex, was destroyed when her 15-year-old daughter advertised a party on Facebook that quickly got out of hand
Esther Hines had little reason to feel any trepidation when her daughter Sarah asked if she could host an early 15th birthday party at their five-bedroom family home.
Why would she After all, it was to be a low-key, innocent affair — alcohol-free, with a maximum of 30 teenagers munching on crisps and sweets while listening to the latest chart music.
And, as the evening of Friday December 7 began to unfold, that is exactly what it seemed to be, at first.
At 7pm, Sarah and her friends were giggling in her bedroom at the family home in Billericay, Essex, while Esther, 56, busied herself setting out nibbles and locking away the contents of the alcohol cabinet, just in case. After all, she mused, it does no harm to be too cautious.
Half an hour later, the doorbell rang. Expecting a handful of people, Esther opened it to find an enormous crowd of teenagers.
‘It was a massive group — and I mean massive,’ she recalls. ‘They said: “We’re here for the party, can we come in” I was a bit bewildered to see so many of them, but my instinct was that I just had to get them in and off the street so they weren’t upsetting the neighbours.’
Alas, this quickly became impossible: for trains stopping at the nearby Billericay station were regularly disgorging groups of teenagers, most bearing plastic bags bulging with alcohol, travelling en masse to the Hines’ suburban cul-de-sac.
‘It took hold so quickly, like a bush fire,’ Esther says now. ‘Later, the police said they could not believe how much alcohol they had to confiscate.’
What happened next will make eye-popping reading for any parent: helpless to stem the tide of arriving ‘guests’ — and with many already rowdy and swigging cans and bottles of beer — Esther ventured outside to try, at least, to reason with them, only to find the house so rammed with people that she couldn’t get back in.
Pigsty: The party was for Sarah's fifteenth birthday but after starting out with a small crowd around 800 teens packed the house
The party only came to an end when police dispersed the huge crowd of teens
‘I was panicking, really. I didn’t understand what had happened. I remember asking one boy where he was from and he said he’d come from Birmingham,’ she recalls.
Her daughter was equally bewildered: after venturing outside herself, she also found she was locked out of her own home. ‘I couldn’t even see anyone I knew,’ she says. ‘I was worrying about what was going on inside, but I couldn’t do anything about it.’
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Drunken teenagers drew on the walls, tossed shelves and even put a hole in the ceiling
What they left behind was horrifying: in the space of just 90 minutes, they had wreaked an awful trail of destruction across the house. Days later, there is still explicit graffiti scrawled on the walls, and mounds of smashed furniture, ornaments, debris and broken glass in every room.
Unsurprisingly, the incident has left both Esther, 56, and her daughter in a state of shock — and not just because of the estimated 30,000 repair bill which she will have to pay because she had inadvertently allowed the house insurance to lapse.
As she puts it: ‘How would you feel if someone did this to your house I feel like our entire lives have been trashed, invaded. It’s the most horrible feeling.
‘This was supposed to be a nice pre-Christmas gathering. Instead, it turned into a riot in my house. And there’s nothing that they didn’t touch or try to destroy. You just want to ask how could they’ she says, her eyes filling with tears. ‘This is our home.’
It is a pertinent question: the carnage visited upon Mrs Hines serves as a timely warning that this sort of teenage destruction can be meted out upon the most respectable of families.
Esther, a former teacher, is a regular church-goer and although she and husband Andrew, 60, a computer consultant, are now estranged — he currently lives in Argentina and is not in regular contact — Sarah and her elder sibling Rachel, 19, enjoyed all the trappings of a middle-class childhood.
There were horse-riding lessons, ballet and ice-skating.
Both girls attended nearby Ingatestone’s Anglo-European School, one of the country’s leading state schools, which boasts smart blazers and good GCSE results.
Mother and daughter: Esther said she was 'bewildered' when so many people turned up at the party and instinctively let them in so they were not on the street to annoy neighbours
Upside down: An estimated 30,000 worth of damage was caused to the 300,000 house
How then, could an innocent party for middle-class teenagers go horribly wrong so quickly
The answer, as Mrs Hines and so many parents before her now know to their cost, lies in one simple word: Facebook. When Sarah posted the details of the party on the social networking site, she believed it to be a private invitation, viewable only by a select group of her friends.
She didn’t realise that to ensure it went to friends only, she had to adjust the privacy settings on the invite, so the details could be seen by absolutely anyone — especially after someone chose to tweet about it, too. This, as Sarah and her mother now realise to their cost, was the equivalent of lighting a touchpaper.
Delighted at the chance of availing themselves of a party venue — even if it is someone’s family home — some young people waste no time marshalling themselves into highly-organised groups via social networking sites.
There is even a dedicated Facebook group set up solely for this purpose: the rather chillingly-named Facebook Republican Army — comprised of men well into their 20s — was set up several years ago with the specific aim of finding teenage parties to gatecrash.
Discord: A piano was smashed up in the front garden before police dispersed the rowdy youngsters
Witnesses at the party claimed teenagers had broken into the loft and were bouncing on ceiling insulation before one fell through into the bedroom
There’s no suggestion they were involved in the drama at The Hines, but they don’t need to be, given the apparently vast number of teenagers willing to ape their antics — as countless parents across the country have learned to their cost in recent times.
Only this month, Ollie Boorman’s mother and father were among them, after their son chose to advertise his 21st birthday party at the family home in Hertfordshire on Facebook.
The result More than 1,000 guests rather than the expected 100 turned up, causing chaos. Britain’s Got Talent Judge Alesha Dixon, was among those caught up in the carnage.
There, at least, as with the Hines, the damage was only material.
This was not the case in September, when what should have been a fun party turned to tragedy after being advertised on Facebook.
Unrelenting: The entire house was targeted by the group of youths who joked about the incident on Facebook the following day
Horde: Crowds of people outside the home. They were made aware of the party through social media sites
Jay Whiston was just 17 when he was stabbed to death outside the home in Colchester, Essex, of Paul and Jeanette Gathercole, whose daughter Laura had put privacy settings on her party invite but still found it swamped by gatecrashers.
Mrs Hines, of course, knew of none of this when, early last month, her daughter raised the notion of celebrating her February birthday a couple of months early, as she would be away on a school trip on the actual date. Given that she would be there to supervise the party, she believed there was little chance that the revels would get out of hand.
Nonetheless, once Sarah had posted her invitation online there was, clearly, sufficient buzz for it to come to the attention of the school registrar who, two weeks ago, phoned Esther to ask if she knew her daughter was having a party and that it had been advertised on Facebook. Some might think this due warning. Esther however, maintains that she misread the tone of the call.
‘From my perspective, it felt like she was checking I was aware Sarah was having a party, which of course I was,’ she says now. ‘I didn’t really pay attention to what she said about Facebook — I didn’t realise how significant it was.’
Venue: The Billericay house where the party was held. The damage caused by the party is estimated to be up to 30,000
And Esther paid a high price for her naivety: within less than two hours her home was almost destroyed. ‘After they’d got rid of everyone, one of the officers came out and said “Do you want to take a look at your house”,’ Esther recalls.
‘And when I did, I was stunned. It looked like a bomb blast had gone off. There was smashed furniture everywhere, and the most astonishing amount of broken glass.
‘There wasn’t a surface that didn’t have glass on it, including the mattresses on the beds. I went onto autopilot, it was the only thing I could do. Sarah and I spent most of the night picking up glass and filling bin bag after bin bag with the detritus.’
In one of the few cheering elements of this modern-day fable, a few of Sarah’s schoolmates did, at least, return to the house to help.
Mother and daughter finally got into bed — after picking broken glass out of the ‘cleanest’ mattress — at 4am, but rose as dawn broke to continue with the thankless clean-up operation.
They have been doing so ever since, although — as I can testify after paying them a visit this week — they barely seem to have scratched the surface.
Evidence of the destruction is obvious from the moment you walk up the driveway — past the wrecked piano, which was dragged outside by partygoers and left on the drive.
Invite: The party's host Sarah Hines posting about the party on Facebook
Alongside it, a bird feeder has been wrenched from its spot and lies amid churned up grass and broken glass. Even the burglar alarm, ten feet up the wall, has been smashed.
‘How did they even get up there’ Esther asks, bewildered. It is nothing, however, to what awaits inside. Obscenities have been scrawled on the walls, carpets have been ripped up and everywhere are remnants of broken glass and debris that the clean-up operation has failed to remove.
In the lounge, a table and shelves have been smashed and furniture ripped to shreds.
The party had been dubbed the 'Project X of Essex'
In the kitchen, cupboards have been ripped off hinges and their contents scattered over the floor, including in the downstairs toilet, which still bears the remnants of the dog food that was scattered over it, mashed in with tomato ketchup.
‘They even stuffed vegetables down the toilet,’ says Esther. ‘Why, you can only guess. They’d gone through the fridge and taken everything out and trampled it on the floor. It was all totally mindless.’
That is one word for it, although when you go upstairs to the top floor — which bore the brunt of the destruction — ‘wanton’ seems more appropriate.
A hole in the ceiling at the top of the stairs is stark evidence of the moment ‘partygoers’ entered the loft through the hatch before breaking a hole in the ceiling and throwing down computers stored there, smashing them onto the hallway floor beneath.
In Sarah’s bedroom, another gaping hole in the ceiling shows where one teenager fell through, his or her fall broken by her bed. Drawers have been smashed, and a fitted wardrobe wrenched off the wall.
It’s not the only thing to have happened in the birthday girl’s bedroom: someone also defecated on the bed, while there was so much broken glass on the mattress it had to be thrown out.
Sarah has, not unsurprisingly, been unable to sleep there since, instead sharing her mum’s bed. ‘It makes me feel sick,’ she says quietly.
The list goes on: a bookcase smashed and contents scattered in the spare room and in Esther’s bedroom. And, everywhere, graffiti, some of it mindless scrawl, some of it more obscene: on one drawer, in Esther’s room, someone has written: ‘F*** this S***hole.’
Little wonder Esther is in shock, stunned at how anyone could do this. Nor is the sabotaging of her home the only fallout from the party she is dealing with: by 9am the morning after, one neighbour had paid a visit to make it clear that the rest of the cul-de-sac holds Esther responsible for the carnage that had been visited on their previously quiet corner of the world.
‘She said they were all angry, that they felt it was my fault and I was to blame,’ Esther says.
An Essex Police spokesman confirmed police had attended a house in Billericay, Essex, on Friday night to disperse the teens
‘I accept it is my fault. I didn’t realise what can happen, and I should have been more aware,’ she says. ‘But once it started, what could I do I was helpless.’
Sarah, meanwhile, can barely bring herself to talk about it.
Currently suspended from school while they examine the circumstances of the party, she says that, while many of her friends have been in touch asking if she’s ok, she has barely been in contact with them.
‘I just don’t want to talk to them about the party,’ she says.
Mrs Hines has bigger things to worry about. With estimates of up to 30,000 to repair structural damage and replace her furniture, she is in despair about how to find the money.
‘Since Andrew has been gone, money has been tight and I have no idea what we will do,’ she says.
There is little chance of compensation either — although the police have suggested bringing criminal charges, it could be hard to work out who to bring them against.
So all that is left is the on-going clean-up operation.
And a terrible sense of regret that an innocent party could get so out of hand.