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Woman in 'copycat suicide pact' had complained to police of harassment

Two young women who gassed themselves using toxic chemicals have died in a suspected copycat suicide pact, it emerged yesterday.

The women were found dead on Thursday morning at a rented flat in Putney, south-west London. One of the women is understood to have made a series of complaints to police and other agencies. Last night a separate investigation was launched by the Independent Police Complaints Commission.

Detectives believe the two women, who were described as sex workers in some reports last night, killed themselves using a toxic combination of chemicals after sealing windows and doors with tape. Police are working on the theory that it was a copycat suicide, based on those of Joanne Lee, 34, of Essex, and Stephen Lumb, 35, of West Yorkshire, whose bodies were found in a car in Braintree, Essex last week. In what police believe was one of the first chemical suicides of its type, the couple released a deadly gas in the car and left warning posters.

The Essex pair met on a suicide chatroom, sparking condemnation of sites that may encourage vulnerable people to take their lives and advise on how to do so. News of the Putney deaths was posted on one leading suicide site today, provoking a user to comment: "Good for them." Neither of the women had been named last night.

Nicola Peckett, head of communications at Samaritans, said the deaths appeared to have some parallels with last week's incident. "I would say it bears some of the characteristics [of last week's deaths] and it could possibly be a copycat suicide," she said. "It could be a complete coincidence – but what is the chance?"

Terming the copycat effect as "a worry", she added: "We do know that young people are more vulnerable to it – being young and emotionally less mature, they are more likely to do something spontaneous."

And she said that, while such deaths were not necessarily responsible for planting suicidal thoughts in the minds of others, they could "move some vulnerable people from thought to action".

Paul Kelly, a trustee at the suicide prevention charity Papyrus, said: "One of the major factors in suicide is having knowledge and access to methods. People who are young and vulnerable are at a very impressionable stage. They're likely to seek out specific ways [to commit suicide], and having access and knowledge is a great help to them."