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Last Updated: Friday, 18 January 2008, 01:05 GMT
Call to ban 'suicide chatrooms'

The father of an 18-year-old man who accessed "suicide chatrooms" on the internet before killing himself, has called for a law to close them down.

The BBC's Fergal Keane has been investigating such sites - and the arguments around their place within the law.

Simon Kelly as a boy
Simon Kelly killed himself after accessing a "suicide chatroom"

Six years after his son Simon Kelly died, his father Paul is still angry that although UK law makes it illegal to offer advice to those contemplating suicide, no-one has ever been successfully prosecuted for it.

Such sites - of which there are hundreds - are strictly non-interventionist, which angers Mr Kelly further because he believes someone should have tried to talk his son out of killing himself.

The BBC's 10 O'clock News has been shown a transcript of the last conversation Simon had on a "suicide chatroom".

'Bus ride'

In it, Simon - referred to by his screen-name SJK - was told by another user to "go out and see the stars".

Simon's response was, "see you on the other side". A chatroom user known as "aldead" wished Simon farewell, while another said "happy bus ride" - "bus ride" being the term the users have for committing suicide.

WATCH TONIGHT AT TEN
Watch Fergal Keane's report and interview with bereaved father Paul Kelly
Ten O'Clock News, Thursday January, BBC One, 2200 GMT

Mr Kelly says his belief that the chatroom users could have talked his son out of taking his own life is backed up by another segment of the transcript, in which a contributor known as "jenwolf" says "don't call the hotline on him".

Other users alluded to the fact that if Simon was dead, there would be no point alerting anyone to his talk of suicide, while another suggested that they would be "nagged" with questions if they did raise the alarm.

As UK law stands it is illegal to assist or attempt to assist a suicide online. A recent review by the Law Commission concluded that the law as it stood was able to deal with offences.

Practical difficulties

But no-one has ever been prosecuted for their part in Simon's death.

The law does say any person who "aids, abets, counsels or procures" a suicide can be jailed for fourteen years.

But any prosecution would depend on proving the website or chat room directly helped cause a person's death.

Internet service providers like Google told the 10 O'clock News they operated within the current law.

And those who support the existence of the sites say it is a matter of free speech, allowing the open exchange of information. Some argue the chat rooms can offer comfort to those feeling suicidal.

But there could be serious practical difficulties in banning the websites.

The Samaritans say they are opposed to a ban on such chatrooms, but a charity campaigning for a ban on internet sites that promote suicide says it has overwhelming public support.

The charity Papyrus says a YouGov poll showed 62% of people supporting a proposal to ban sites which it claims groom young people for suicide.

A spokeswoman for the Ministery of Justice said there were no plans to ban the websites and chatrooms.

She said: "Assisting a suicide is altready an offence, and people can be prosecuted for it

"The Law Commission has already examined the issue of whether or not to ban these webistes, and it concluded that the existing law was adequate."

If you have been affected by any of the issues raised by this story and would like to talk to someone in confidence for further information and support, please call the BBC Action Line on 08000 680 661

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