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Last Updated: Thursday, 12 May, 2005, 14:15 GMT 15:15 UK
Girl's overdose after 'bullying'
Laura Rhodes
Laura Rhodes died after taking an overdose of tablets
A schoolgirl died from an overdose of tablets after suffering bullying at school, an inquest has heard.

Laura Rhodes, 13, from Neath, south Wales, died in September 2004 while a 14-year-old friend from Birmingham, who also took an overdose, survived.

Laura's mother, Yvonne Rhodes, told the continuing inquest in Neath her daughter had been bullied at the town's Cefn Saeson Comprehensive School.

Mrs Rhodes said Laura had suffered taunts about her weight and sexuality.

The hearing was told Laura had been moved from Cefn Saeson to a pupil referral unit in September 2003, where she was happier, Mrs Rhodes said.

'She was afraid'

Mrs Rhodes said her daughter had initially been taunted about her weight, and later about her sexuality after she had confided in another child that she might be gay.

Although she had left the school more than a year before, Mrs Rhodes said Laura was still worried about being bullied.

"She was afraid it (the bullying) would happen to her if she went to another school," Mrs Rhodes said.
Michael and Yvonne Rhodes arrive at the inquest in Neath
Michael and Yvonne Rhodes arrive at the inquest in Neath

At the time of her death, there was no immediate prospect of Laura returning to mainstream education, the inquest heard.

Mrs Rhodes added: "Sometimes she would say, 'I don't know that life is worth living'."

Mrs Rhodes said bullying had changed the personality of her daughter after she started at Cefn Saeson.

"She would not go out. She was lonely."

Mrs Rhodes added that even when she left Cefn Saeson, she would still get called names if she saw former pupils from the school in Neath.

Earlier Mrs Rhodes told the hearing of the events leading up to her daughter's death.

Police search

She said Laura's friend had gone with the Rhodes family on a two-week holiday to Crete in August 2004.

When the family returned to south Wales, it was arranged that Laura's friend - whom the coroner has ordered should not be named - would return to her home in Birmingham the following day.
Cefn Saeson
The inquest heard Laura was bullied at Cefn Saeson School

But the next day, the two girls disappeared.

Within days, they were discovered in Bath and brought back to Neath on 3 September by the police.

Mrs Rhodes said that the girls spoke briefly about where they had been and then went to bed, although both remained agitated and would not sleep.

Mrs Rhodes said that at 0415 BST on 4 September, she heard Laura's friend shouting: "It's Laura, it's Laura" and went into Laura's bedroom to find her collapsed on the floor.

Laura later died at Swansea's Morriston Hospital.

Letter found

Mrs Rhodes said medication for her husband's back pain was kept in the house.

Home Office pathologist Dr Stephen Leadbeatter told the inquest that drug toxicity had been the cause of Laura's death. He had said the medication she had taken was "way over" therapeutic levels.

Mrs Rhodes said Laura's friend told her Laura had taken 46 tablets and she had taken 45.

Mrs Rhodes added that, since meeting in September or October 2003, the two girls had communicated over the internet and on the telephone every day.

After Laura's death, a note telling of her despair at the prospect of being separated from her friend was discovered.

But the note did not mention anything about bullying specifically, Mrs Rhodes told the hearing.

The mother of Laura's 14-year-old friend told the inquest her daughter had not told her the exact reason for what happened, but said the two girls did not want to be parted.

"She told me Laura was unhappy, she was unhappy and it was a spur of the moment decision that she decided to do it," she said.

The girls made the pact to take the tablets while they were on their way back to Wales from Bath, she said.

"She did not want to be parted from Laura," the girl's mother said.

The inquest heard the teenager remains in a psychiatric clinic and is considered a high suicide risk.

'Difficult atmosphere'

The inquest also heard from Laura's older brother Andrew Rhodes, 27.

He told the hearing he was close to Laura but said that she had "behavioural problems" growing up.

Mr Rhodes added: "My parents had a lot of difficulties controlling Laura's behaviour a lot of the time.

"Quite often she would lash out and would need to be physically restrained. It could be quite a difficult atmosphere."

He said that once his sister had made contact with her friend in Birmingham they would spend "huge amounts" of time on the internet.

"It was a friendship upon which she had become highly reliant and which was encouraged by my parents," Mr Rhodes said.

The inquest heard from Michelle Huws-Thomas, a psychiatric nurse who was brought in to attend to Laura's friend after her death.

Ms Huws-Thomas said she had spent 13 hours with the friend immediately after Laura and felt the girls had both intended to take their own lives.

"It seemed like they both came to the conclusion to try and be in heaven together because they wanted to be together in some other place and not apart," she told the inquest.

The inquest, which is expected to last two days, continues.

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