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Police issue warning over social media ‘challenge’ as children try to overdose on paracetamol

Chairman of the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners shares warning on Today programme

William Mata
Tuesday 15 August 2023 19:32 BST
Chaos as crowds run from police on London's Oxford Street

Parents have been warned of a social media “challenge” that has seen children overdosing on paracetamol to see who can stay in hospital the longest.

The warning comes as a police chief called on parents to stop their children joining in with online crazes that included looting in Oxford Street and competitions to overdose on drugs.

Encouraged by the social media videos, teenagers in Southampton took the painkillers to see who could stay in hospital for the longest time over the weekend.

And last Wednesday, police used batons as teenagers organised a so-called flash mob raid on JD Sports in London’s shopping heartland that had been reportedly inspired by TikTok, although the social media site has said there is no evidence for this.

The Metropolitan Police arrested at least five people amid reports that one officer was punched in the face by a youth. The force also issued 34 dispersal orders and it was reported that two ringleaders were arrested later on Wednesday.

Donna Jones, the new chairman of the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners (APCC), told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme on Tuesday that parents should step in to dissuade the behaviour.

She called out TikTok specifically although the company said it has “seen no evidence to support these claims”.

Ms Jones said: “There are social media influencers who will set challenges to each other and the public.

“What happened in Southampton over the weekend is that young people, aged 15 to 17, decided to challenge each other to overdose. And the person who remained in hospital for the longest would be the person who won.

“Of course this is incredibly worrying. It is putting young lives in danger and I don’t think they understand the fun could be very worrying. It is taking up much needed ambulance and police time.

“We can’t afford for that to happen and I think parents need to get involved.”

Ms Jones added that in the Southampton incident that people were hospitalised and that this follows the JD Sports robbery. Witnesses filmed the chaotic scenes on Oxford Street as the youths wrestled with officers and crowds were seen screaming and running away from the clashes.

Police brace as TikTok videos call for robberies on Oxford Street

“These are criminal events,” she said. “Many shops put their barriers down and closed which led to loss of earnings. JD Sports were deprived of their goods as well.”

Ms Jones said another TikTok-inspired event was arranged around the same time in Southend in Essex and that the Met intercepted an event in Bexleyheath – although TikTok has again said there was no evidence for these.

“We are seeing a worrying trend, and as a police and crime commissioner it is my job to make sure there is a police service that is effective.

Police officers stand outside the Broadway Shopping Centre in Bexleyheath, southeast London, where businesses have been warned to prepare for "gangs of youths" to carry out an alleged TikTok-inspired raid (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

“Police resources are stretched and this is why I am intervening and speaking to parents. I hope there were parents who were looking at the footage who are seeing if their child was there and I hope there have been multiple conversations to explain that it is criminal.”

She added that social media companies themselves have a “responsibility” as well and she has encouraged the acceleration of a social media bill. She also wants TikTok to perform their “duty” in investigating what has happened in these events – despite the platform saying it has scores of professionals who are working to keep it safe for users.

TikTok has responded to say that they cannot find any videos relating to a challenge around paracetamol or the Oxford Street looting.

A spokesman said: "We have seen no evidence to support these claims and we have zero tolerance for content facilitating or encouraging criminal activities.

“We have over 40,000 safety professionals dedicated to keeping TikTok safe – if we find content of this nature, we remove it and actively engage with law enforcement on these issues."

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