Pro-suicide websites pushed my teenage son to take his own life

Campaigner urges action to control access to ‘terrifying’ swathe of legal sites

To those who knew him, Tim was a model teenager. The quieter of twin boys, he was a brilliant pupil at the private school in Wiltshire where he served as head boy.

Tim and his brother moved to the local comprehensive to study for A-levels. He was well liked, and was predicted to get four As. But one evening in November 2002, “seemingly out of the blue”, at the age of 16, Tim took his own life.

“I last saw him the night before, when I said good night. We shook hands as we did every night,” his father recalls. “I was going off to London that morning for work. I called out into his room to say goodbye without response. I thought maybe he was just asleep.”

It was on the train to the office where he worked as a civil servant that Martyn Piper got the call from his wife, Hazel. “Shock hardly begins to describe how I felt. I was stunned and horrified and couldn’t believe it, frankly.”

Unsurprisingly, nearly 12 years later the pain has not dulled. “He was already a fine man. It is a feeling of loss and a waste of a good and talented young man.”

It was only after his son’s death, when police took away the family’s computers as part of their investigations, that Tim’s parents understood that their son had been suffering clinical depression.

On the day he died, Tim had entered the word “suicide” into a search engine and followed instructions on one of a number of sites where people promote and encourage others at their lowest ebbs to take their own lives.

While Mr Piper accepts his son’s depression played a pivotal role in his death, he wonders whether Tim would still be alive today had he not found what he was looking for at that moment. “If he hadn’t taken his own life at that point who knows what might have happened? He might have felt able to talk to a friend or one of us, or he quite simply might never have felt that low again.”

Mr Piper has spent the past decade campaigning for greater control of the internet – now as head of internet safety campaigns for Papyrus, a charity set up for the prevention of young suicide. He is calling for stricter controls over a “terrifying” swathe of pro-suicide websites.

These sites, Mr Piper believes, pose “the greatest risk to young people online today”. “They push and pull people when they are at their most vulnerable,” he says. “If you can limit the access to means, this is something that is shown to reduce suicide,” he says.

It is a “moot point”, he suggests, as to whether these sites are legal or not. “It is illegal to ‘help or assist’ someone to kill themselves in real life, so are sites where people are egged on to do it not illegal too?”

Among its legislative calls, Papyrus wants suicide and self-harm sites to be included in the filtering provided by internet service providers in the same way that certain pornographic and gambling sites, as well as images of child abuse, already are. “We accept it’s difficult to regulate the internet though we don’t believe it’s impossible.”

The way the online and offline worlds are so linked for children today, Mr Piper doesn’t believe many young people would attempt to take their own lives without consulting the internet.

By leaving vulnerable children free to find these sites within a couple of clicks of the keyboard, he says we are failing to save lives.

“Instead of being an afterthought, these sites should be right at the heart of our focus. The point is with suicide sites and chatrooms, we know they can and do lead to young people and vulnerable people’s deaths. We know that because it did it for my son.”

Raised voices charities back ‘one contact’ clause

To help make the internet a safer environment for young people, The Independent is calling for the Government to pass legislation that means police need only to prove a groomer had contacted their victim once rather than twice, as is now the case. Charities backing the call include the NSPCC, Young Minds, Hope UK, Off the Record and Safermedia.

Tam Baillie, Scotland’s Commissioner for Children and Young People, says: “In Scotland the police can already act on first contact. While I would not want to specifically comment on other jurisdictions it would make sense for the protection of children and young people from online abuse, to have a consistent approach across the UK.”

Sam Royston, head of policy and public affairs at the Children’s Society, says: “Most parents will probably be shocked that as the law stands, an adult can contact a child online to arrange a meeting with the intention of sexually abusing them, and the police are powerless to intervene until they do it again. The dangers children face online are changing rapidly and the law needs to keep up.”

Louise Mensch, the former MP who was a victim of cyberbullying, says: “One contact by a groomer is one too many. If a paedophile attempts to groom a child for sex, it should be a criminal offence. Why should a child need to be endangered twice before police act?”

Christine Blower, general secretary of the NUT, says: “Teachers take child protection and internet safety very seriously. If the ‘one contact’ clause can be used effectively to protect children from abuse it has the support of the union.”

Martyn Piper, of Papyrus, says: “We are happy to support the call for stronger action on grooming and believe this needs to encompass grooming for suicide. Sites and chatrooms encouraging suicide lead to the deaths of vulnerable young people.”

Further information about depression is available at www.rethink.org and via the Rethink Mental Illness Advice and Information phone line on 0300 5000 927

Samaritans is available round-the-clock on 08457 90 90 90 or email: jo@samaritans.org

PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
News
Alan Bennett criticised the lack of fairness in British society encapsulated by the private school system
peopleBut he does like Stewart Lee
Sport
John Terry, Frank Lampard
footballChelsea captain sends signed shirt to fan whose mum had died
Life and Style
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Rita Ora will replace Kylie Minogue as a judge on The Voice 2015
tv
Life and Style
tech
Life and Style
Alan Turing, who was convicted of gross indecency in 1952, was granted a royal pardon last year
life
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black and Ed Stoppard as her manager Brian Epstein
tvCilla Episode 2 review: Grit under the glamour in part two of biopic series starring Sheridan Smith
Life and Style
life
Arts and Entertainment
Tennis player Andy Murray's mum Judy has been paired with Anton du Beke for Strictly Come Dancing. 'I'm absolutely delighted,' she said.
tvJudy Murray 'struggling' to let Anton Du Beke take control on Strictly
Life and Style
Vote with your wallet: the app can help shoppers feel more informed about items on sale
lifeNew app reveals political leanings of food companies
Sport
David Moyes and Louis van Gaal
football
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Gadgets & Tech

    Sales Director, Media Sponsorship

    £60000 - £65000 per annum: Sauce Recruitment: A globally successful media and ...

    Head of Affiliate Sales for Emerging Markets

    competitive + benefits: Sauce Recruitment: Are you looking for your next role ...

    Graduate / Junior C# Developer

    £18000 - £25000 Per Annum + bonus and benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Lt...

    Brand Engagement Manager - TV

    £45000 - £55000 per annum: Sauce Recruitment: This is your chance to join a gl...

    Day In a Page

    Secret politics of the weekly shop

    The politics of the weekly shop

    New app reveals political leanings of food companies
    Beam me up, Scottie!

    Beam me up, Scottie!

    Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
    Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

    Beware Wet Paint

    The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
    Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

    Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

    Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
    Sanctuary for the suicidal

    Sanctuary for the suicidal

    One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
    A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

    Not That Kind of Girl:

    A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

    In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

    Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
    Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

    Model mother

    Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
    Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

    Apple still the coolest brand

    Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits