Bullying blamed for suicide pact that left teenager dead

A teenage suicide pact may have been triggered by bullies who taunted one of the girls over her weight.

Laura Rhodes, 13, died and Rebecca Ling, 14, is recovering in hospital after the girls swallowed prescription pills and left a note saying they "did not wish to be parted". The two, who met over the internet, had sparked a national police search when they ran away last week after returning from a family break in Greece together. They had been due to resume school after the summer. They were eventually traced to a bed and breakfast in Bath, Somerset. But within hours of being located on Friday night, they made the suicide attempt. Laura's mother, Yvonne, discovered them early on Saturday morning on the bedroom floor with an empty bottle of tablets by their side and a suicide note.

A neighbour at Laura's home in Neath, south Wales, said: "Laura was moved from her first comprehensive school because she was bullied about her weight." It is understood she became depressed over the gibes and police said she had run away from home in December last year.

Rebecca's stepfather, Neil Fisher, from Longbridge, Birmingham, said his stepdaughter had enjoyed a stable home life, describing her as a happy, outgoing schoolgirl.

He said: "We are in bits at the moment. Becca had never run away before. She was happy. There were no signs that anything was wrong.

"Becca met Laura on the internet a couple of years ago. They were very close and Laura had been up to Birmingham a few times to see us, once for a week earlier this year.

"It is just devastating news. We were so up on Friday night when we heard that the girls had been found and then to hear this has just left us in pieces. They are 13 and 14 for God's sake. How a suicide pact came to be dreamt up I just don't know."

Hilary Hipkin, Laura's former headteacher at Crynallt Junior School in Neath, declined to comment on suggestions she had been bullied. "She was a nice, hard-working pupil. She was a bright girl who had a close group of friends."

The girls formed a close bond after meeting in the MSN Messenger chatroom and began exchanging e-mails. They had been on holiday with Laura's family in Crete before they disappeared on Wednesday. On their return, Rebecca had been due to travel from Laura's home to Birmingham.

Police said members of Laura's family dropped the pair off at Neath railway station so that they could say goodbye before Rebecca departed on the 4pm train. The alarm was raised when neither girl returned home. Officers searched the Neath area as well as Birmingham in case both girls had boarded the train.

Police said it was "out of character" for Rebecca to go missing. Inspector Malcolm Lewis, of South Wales Police, said Laura's death was not being treated as suspicious. Police officers were due to interview Rebecca in hospital yesterday, and family liaison officers have been brought in to support the girls' families. Police were also checking the girls' e-mail correspondence.