'Suicide forum' warning after couple's deaths

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The Independent Online

A charity which counsels suicidal people today warned of the dangers the internet could pose after police said they thought that two strangers had formed a death pact hours after making contact online.

Samaritans said it was working with providers of social networking sites to try to ensure that suicidal people got access to help if they searched the internet.

Police said post mortem tests were being carried out on the remains of Stephen Lumb, 35, of Sowerby Bridge, West Yorkshire, and Joanne Lee, 34, of Great Notley, Essex.

Both were found in a car parked on an industrial estate in Braintree, Essex, early on Monday. A source close to the investigation said it was thought the pair had formed a "chemical suicide pact" hours after making contact on an internet "suicide forum".

Family members today paid tribute to Mr Lumb and Miss Lee as police prepared a report for a coroner.

"The internet can be a place to find friendship and like-minded people to chat to, but sometimes it can also be harmful," Catherine Johnstone, Samaritans' chief executive, said.

"A distressed person can meet another person online and, instead of finding help and support, they end up encouraging each other to do something they might not have done alone."

She added: "What we are doing is making sure that Samaritans' website is one of the search engine results when a person looks for suicide-related information online, so that the option is there for them to seek help.

"We are also working with social networking sites, such as Facebook, to help them and their users offer support to people in distress.

"This includes a Samaritans Facebook page where people can watch videos explaining the support we provide and keep themselves informed about our latest campaigns, as well as find contact details to get in touch directly."

Mr Lumb's father Melvyn spoke today of his "complete shock".

"He didn't seem any different, he had the same mannerisms. I didn't know her, I knew nothing about her," said Mr Lumb, who lived with his son.

"He used it (the internet) quite a bit, he played computer games. He liked a beer and football, normal lad.

"It is a complete shock, I never expected anything like this.

"I loved him. I will miss him every day of my life. I will miss him every minute of every day. I thought the world of him. I couldn't have had a better son."

Miss Lee's mother Jill and stepfather Brian Chappell said they were composing their thoughts. They described her as "lovely and caring".

"We didn't know what she was doing on the internet," said Mr Chappell. "We would have stopped her if we had known."

Miss Lee lived alone - near her mother and stepfather.

Neighbours said they thought she had an eating disorder and described her as "reclusive".

"I've lived here 15 years and I don't think I ever spoke to her," said one local. "I would see her at the door in her dressing gown occasionally as I drove past. She was always very thin and looked unwell. I think she had anorexia."

Essex Police said "noxious" substances had been found inside the car.

Firefighters said it was thought that the chemical involved was hydrogen sulphide, a highly poisonous gas.