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Monday, 5 November, 2001, 22:32 GMT
Schoolgirl's story inspires Cherie
Cherie Booth
Cherie Booth: "Her mum wanted my help"
A single schoolgirl's story has moved Cherie Booth, the wife of Prime Minister Tony Blair, to speak out against bullying.

Julie Oakley only discovered her 15-year-old daughter was being bullied after the teenager collapsed outside their south Gloucestershire home.

She had taken 41 paracetamol and 15 prescription painkillers called Tylex.

She was taken to hospital and released three days later.


I wrote to Cherie Booth because she is a mother and as a mother she could understand how I and other mothers felt

Julie Oakley

Mrs Oakley told BBC News Online: "It was a traumatic experience.

"You feel like you have let them down.

"As a parent you are supposed to protect your children.

"You think you should know what your children are thinking - but you do not."

But when Mrs Oakley went to her daughter's school, she found teachers were unwilling to accept there was a problem.

"They wanted to brush it under the carpet," she said.

"They are worried they will get a bad name - but I would think more of a school if they were honest and said they would tackle the problem head-on."

Similar problems

It was suggested that her daughter move to a different school.

But, Mrs Oakley recalled: "I said, 'Why should she move, she has done nothing wrong?'"

So Mrs Oakley decided to take the matter into her own hands.

She wrote a letter to her local newspaper about her daughter's plight and found herself inundated with replies from parents experiencing similar problems.

Huge response

The huge response made her even more determined to act.

So Mrs Oakley took the matter to the top - by writing not to the prime minister, but to the woman described as his unofficial deputy.

She told BBC News Online: "I wrote to Cherie Booth because she is a mother and as a mother she could understand how I and other mothers felt."


Her 15-year-old daughter was the sort of girl we might all feel proud to be the parent of

Cherie Booth

And Ms Booth did not disappoint.

Writing in the The Observer newspaper on Sunday, she said: "Last week I received a letter from the mother of a teenage girl.

"Her 15-year-old daughter was the sort of girl we might all feel proud to be the parent of.

"She didn't smoke, drink, go out late and was motivated and hard working at school.

"But her mum wanted my help.

"The girl had recently tried to commit suicide.

Self-help group

"Why? Because she was bullied at school to such an extent that she felt worthless enough to want to take her own life and was too scared to tell her parents until it was too late."

Mrs Oakley was delighted.

She told BBC News Online: "At first I did not want people to know - but I changed my mind when I realised so many other parents had had the same experience."

And although she has yet to receive a personal reply from Ms Booth, Mrs Oakley has already been inspired to start her own self-help group for victims and their parents - Bullywatch.

See also:

05 Nov 01 | Education
School bullying 'not inevitable'
29 Mar 01 | Education
Bullied pupils say names do hurt
24 Jan 01 | Education
Pupils suffer bullying 'misery'
08 Nov 00 | Education
Teenager loses bullying claim
Links to more Education stories are at the foot of the page.


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