Teens die after logging into 'suicide chat rooms'

Vulnerable youngsters surf the net for advice and encouragement on ending their own lives

Pro-suicide websites and chat rooms have been implicated in the deaths of at least 16 young people in the UK in the past few years.

One of the victims was Simon Kelly, an 18-year-old with no apparent problems, or so his parents thought. They returned home from a holiday to discover that their son had hanged himself. His father, Paul Kelly, has been campaigning since his son's death, five years ago, to close down pro-suicide chat rooms and websites.

Simon had left a website on his computer in which he thanked his friends from suicide chat rooms. "I had no idea that these sites existed before the death of my son. We were taken completely unawares because as far as we knew he was a perfectly normal, sociable and happy youngster. The people behind these sites appear to be totally cynical in their desire to encourage and enable people to kill themselves."

For victims such as Simon, it is too late. Mr Kelly is determined to help stop others suffering the same fate: "I'm looking to prevent future sorrows and tragedies. People will continue to die as the result of suicide chat rooms unless something is done."

Simon is one of many young people whose deaths have been linked to suicide websites in recent years ­ the most recent was a 13-year-old girl in Lytham St Anne's, Lancashire.

Grieving parents want websites and chat rooms that promote suicide to be banned. Their campaign is being led by Papyrus, a charity led by concerned and bereaved parents for the prevention of young suicide.

Under the Suicide Act 1961, assisting a suicide carries a prison sentence of up to 14 years. But suicide websites are not illegal.

The Government has ruled out changing the law and seems content to leave regulation to the industry. A spokesman for the Internet Services Providers' Association said: "It needs to be unlawful content for the industry to take action." But he added: "Suicide is something that needs to be tackled very sensitively and is something the industry is concerned about."

Some internet providers, such as AOL, Google and Microsoft, now prioritise suicide charities in web searches for certain words and phrases and have chat room moderators.

A web administrator on a pro-suicide website saidof critics of such sites: "They think death is an inherently bad thing, while I don't."

Suicide accounts for the deaths of more than 5,500 people a year in the UK, and is the most common cause of death among teenagers. In 2004, 635 young people aged between 15 and 24 took their own lives.

Additional reporting by Claire O'Boyle

A SCHOOLGIRL'S DEATH WISH

'Online, she was a completely different child'

Carina Stephenson was an apparently happy, normal teenager. The 17-year-old was described by her parents as "the perfect daughter".

What they didn't know, as she went off on a bike ride one day in May last year, was that she had made a secret pact with girls she had met in suicide chat rooms to take her own life.

Her body was found hanging in woods near her home in Branton, near Doncaster, four days later. Her family were devastated to discover that Carina, a student who was about to start her A-levels, had been leading a double life. "This was the hardest part of it. Going online it was just like getting to know a completely different child," said her mother, Liz Taylor.

She tracked down the girls that her daughter had made a pact with but does not feel any anger towards them. "I think they were shocked that Carina had actually done it. But the people behind the sites should be locked up," she said.

"I class it as assisted suicide. It is horrific and the pain of losing her will never, ever go. We need to stop these sick maniacs. I want all these sites shut down. There is no excuse for not doing anything about this."

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