Tuesday 6 December 2016

Online attacks are 'devastating' for teens, inquest told

Greg Harkin

Published 18/08/2016 | 02:30

Erin Gallagher, who died by suicide in 2012 at the age of 13
Erin Gallagher, who died by suicide in 2012 at the age of 13

Teenage victims of online trolls suffer "devastating" consequences, a leading child psychologist has warned.

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Dr Don McDwyer was giving evidence in the inquest into the death of 13-year-old Erin Gallagher, who took her own life in October 2012 at her home in Ballybofey, Co Donegal, after being taunted on the Ask.fm website. Her sister Shannon (15) took her own life 45 days later.

At the inquest in Letterkenny yesterday, the girls' mother, Lorraine Gallagher, told Coroner Dr Denis McCauley that on the day of her daughter's death - a Saturday - she was working at McElhinney's department store.

She said Erin and her son Seán James were at home and had called to the shop to have lunch with her.

Erin and her son had been laughing and joking with her and had stayed until about 3pm before walking to their home on the Silverwood estate.

When she returned home just after 6pm, she walked into the hallway and saw her son sitting beside Erin.

"Seán James said to me, 'It's OK, Erin's just sleeping mummy'," said Ms Gallagher. "I realised something was wrong; that Erin had hanged herself."

Det Garda Tom Ward said Ask.fm - which allows people to post anonymously online - had co-operated with a DPP request and gave full access to Erin's account.

He said gardaí interviewed a number of young people as a result of checking 258 messages.

A file on the case had been sent to the DPP and in June 2014 the DPP had recommended no prosecution.

Finn Valley College principal Alan Thompson, who was appointed almost a year after Erin's death, said the school had become aware of online bullying on September 10, seven weeks before the girl's death.

"This had left her feeling upset," said Mr Thompson. A number of other incidents followed.

Dr Don McDwyer, child psychologist with the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services, said he had been told of a previous attempt by Erin to take her own life at Finn Valley College on September 21.

Erin was assessed and her main complaint was about bullying on social media.

She had been due to have a review on November 1, but had died four days earlier.

Dr McDwyer said attacks on young people online can be "sudden and devastasting".

He told the inquest: "Victims can feel overwhelmed and isolated and their self-esteem is undermined.

"The consequences can be devastating and a young person can go to pieces very quickly."

Irish Independent

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