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Last Updated: Monday, 14 January 2008, 11:03 GMT
Father targets 'suicide websites'
By Jane Beresford
BBC Radio 4

When Paul Kelly and his wife returned from their summer holiday in 2001 they received the news that every parent dreads. Their 18-year-old son Simon was dead.

Paul Kelly
Paul Kelly is pressing for a change in the law

But Simon had died in a particularly horrifying and perplexing way.

He had used the absence of his parents to contact internet suicide websites, "sites which give detailed technical information on how to kill yourself," says Mr Kelly.

"And also chatrooms... We know this for a fact because the police were able to download the information and the sites that he had been accessing, so we have a record of his conversation for the last few hours of his life with other people in the chatroom."

Such suicide chatrooms support and in some cases encourage people who say they wish to kill themselves.

There are currently no separate records of the number of people in the UK who may have died as a result of interaction with such "suicide sites".

But Papyrus, a national charity dedicated to the prevention of young suicide, believes that there have been at least 27 such cases in the last six years, the youngest 13 years old.

No convictions

The Ministry of Justice says "assisting or attempting to assist suicide online is an offence when carried out online".

It says the Law Commission examined the issue and concluded that the existing law is capable of dealing with offences.

Papyrus HOPELineUK
Telephone: 0870 170 4000
Support and practical advice to anyone concerned that a young person may be suicidal

But no-one has been successfully prosecuted over Simon Kelly's death or any of the 27 cases documented by Papyrus.

The suicide websites remain and Simon Kelly's father believes that will remain the case as the law stands because of the extreme difficulties of linking a suicide to any individual - not to mention the difficulties of tracking them down.

One case did reach court when a reporter posed as bullied and depressed schoolchildren in a chatroom - the man accused of attempting to help a person commit or attempt suicide was found not guilty.

Paul Kelly wants amendments to the law which would allow for the prosecution of people who generally promote suicide via the internet.

If someone offered the same advice person-to-person, he argues, then that would be an offence, so why not it if it is done through a website.

A similar law has been passed in Australia making it illegal to "promote" suicide via electronic means. It has resulted in some suicide information sites based in Australia being "taken down".

I'm not saying the internet was solely responsible for the death of my son .. but one of the big factors in suicide is having access to the means of taking your own life
Paul Kelly

The global nature of the internet makes these sites difficult to monitor and control. The sites that Simon Kelly contacted were based in the United States and countries have different legislation controlling online content.

And the popularity of the internet amongst young people may make them particularly likely to access such sites at vulnerable times of their lives.

Paul Kelly knows that his son may have been determined to kill himself in any case.

"I'm not saying the internet was solely responsible for the death of my son... but what we do know is that one of the big factors in suicide is having access to the means of taking your own life."

"The internet is immediate: within seconds you can type in words and have at your disposal clear technical information. There's one site which has got 48 different methods on how to kill yourself.

"That could be the last straw, if you like, which would tip someone over. And that is what I believe happened to Simon."

Paul Kelly is interviewed in Taking A Stand, Radio 4, 0900 GMT, repeated 2100 GMT, Tuesday, 15 January, or at the Listen again page.



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