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Last Updated: Friday, 13 May, 2005, 17:34 GMT 18:34 UK
Schoolgirl overdose was suicide
Laura Rhodes
Laura Rhodes killed herself with an overdose of tablets
A girl who had been unhappy at school committed suicide in a pact with another teenager, a coroner has ruled.

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 parents said she was unhappy after bullying about her weight and sexuality at Cefn Saeson School, Neath.

But coroner David Osborne said the situation at the school was not the main cause of the suicide pact.

The two-day inquest in Neath heard that Laura and her friend, who cannot be named for legal reasons, had met on the internet in September or October 2003 and had formed an "extremely close" relationship.

'Spur of moment'

In August 2004, the two teenagers went on a two-week holiday to Crete with Laura's parents.

A day after returning to south Wales, they ran away.

Police officers tracked the pair to Bath and returned them to Neath on 3 September.

Picture of Alan Griffiths, head teacher of Cefn Saeson School
Cefn Saeson head Alan Griffiths said the school had helped Laura

The inquest heard that it was on the way back to Wales in a police car that they decided on the "spur of the moment" to end their lives.

Once at home in Cimla, Neath, Laura gathered a large number of prescription tablets and the pair took more than 40 each with the intention of "having a perfect afterlife" together.

Laura died on 4 September at Swansea's Morriston Hospital.

The inquest heard that Laura's friend remains in a psychiatric unit and has taken further overdoses.

Laura attended Cefn Saeson School from September 2002, before moving to a pupil referral unit in Bryncoch, Neath, in July 2003 - more than a year before her death.

Her mother, Yvonne Rhodes, said that after telling a friend she may be gay, Laura was subjected to regular homophobic taunts and was also teased over her weight at Cefn Saeson.

'Consciences clear'

Mrs Rhodes said after leaving the school, her daughter remained worried about bullying and that it had changed her personality.

But the school's head teacher, Alun Griffiths, said staff had been concerned for Laura's safety and had exhausted all strategies to deal with the bullying problem.

Laura, he explained, wanted especially close relationships that other girls found hard to deal with.

Yvonne Rhodes
Laura's mother, Yvonne, has said her daughter was bullied

One girl, he said became "very, very upset" at Laura's attention.

"We have searched our consciences and have to say our consciences are clear," he added.

"We could not have done any more to support Laura and her family."

Francis Morris, head year at the school, told the inquest that on three separate occasions she identified bullies and they had been dealt with.

She described Laura's attention to a girl to whom she had given a heart-shaped necklace as "smothering".

"It was almost as if she could not cope with being part of a group. She needed one friend," she said.

Child psychiatrist John Talbot said it did not appear the problems at school caused the suicide pact to be formed - the prime motive was the girls' fear of separation from each other and fear of homophobia.

He said the girls had become "extremely close emotionally" and the "intensity" of their relationship would have almost certainly hampered them in obtaining support.

Returning the suicide verdict, Neath Port Talbot coroner David Osborne said it was "indisputable that Laura was unhappy at Cefn Saeson" but added the situation at the school was not the main cause.

After the verdict, Michael and Yvonne Rhodes' solicitor Peter Davies read a family statement.

It said: "They do not accept that Cefn Saeson School did all they could to deal with the bullying that Laura experienced during her time at the school and after she left.

"The family hope that lessons will be learned from their tragic loss so that others do not have to suffer as they have."

Stuart Evans, acting Director of Education at Neath Port Talbot Council, said: "We endorse the view of the recent Estyn inspection that the quality of care, support and guidance provided by the school is outstanding."


SEE ALSO:
Girl's overdose after 'bullying'
12 May 05 |  South West Wales


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