Sunday 21 December 2014

Tragic girl cyber-bullied on Facebook over self-harming - inquest told

Gareth Naughton

Published 21/05/2014 | 17:41

Lara Burns
Tragic Lara Gibbs-Burns

Conversations on the Facebook page of a 12-year-old girl who tragically took her own life show that friends had concerns she was being cyberbullied over her self-harming, an inquest heard.

Lara Gibbs-Burns died after she was found hanging in stables at her family home in Grange, Enfield, Co Meath on November 24, 2012.

She had attended suicide and self-harm crisis centre Pieta House for a number of weeks before her death after telling a counsellor at Maynooth Post-Primary School that she was self-harming.

Her mother Helene Burns told the inquest that the family was unaware of the self-harming until contacted by the school.

Lara's death had been linked to cyberbullying and gardaí previously told Dublin Coroner’s Court that they could find no evidence of this.

However, on the third day of the inquest, coroner Dr Brian Farrell put documents detailing Lara’s interactions on Facebook on record saying it appeared that some contributors were concerned that she was being cyberbullied.

Helene Burns arrives at the Coroner's Court in Dublin
Pictured: Lara's mother Helene Burns arriving at the Coroner's Court in Dublin last year

These interactions dated back more than a year to when Lara was in primary school and the issue of her self-harming is being discussed, he said. A third party warned others about cyberbullying Lara, he said, but there is no record of the previous interaction this person was concerned about.

Inspector Paul Dolan said that the Facebook page was looked at as part of the criminal investigation but there was no evidence to sustain a criminal charge.

The inquest had heard about an incident on November 16 when the school investigated rumours that Lara had given another student a blade. She was completely exonerated, however, Dr Farrell said that this “clearly” shows that there was talk between students around Lara’s self-harm.

Ms Burns had claimed that Lara’s schoolmates became aware that she was self-harming when a teacher made her roll up her sleeve in the middle of an art class and then sent her to see a counsellor. Giving evidence previously school principal Johnny Nevin said that he had no information to suggest that this was correct.

He returned to the stand to tell the coroner that he had spoken with Lara’s art teacher who confirmed that on occasion students would be asked to roll up their sleeves.

“She would never have done it in a targeted way to any student and definitely not to Lara to cause any embarrassment or to highlight her self-harm,” he said.

It was his understanding that the teacher had dealt with it sensitively and discreetly, he said, and Lara was “definitely not” sent out of the class to see a counsellor.

Ms Burns also told the court that Pieta House did not tell her that her daughter was assessed as being at high risk of suicide when she first presented to them on October 10.

When asked if she “clearly recalled” discussing this with Ms Burns, Pieta House psychologist Niamh Murray said she did. She said that Lara showed improvement in mood during her treatment and she was “shocked” when she heard of her suicide. “I did not feel she was at risk,” she said.

Returning a verdict that Lara took her own life, Dr Farrell said that there were a number of conflicts in the evidence that he could not resolve but asked the school and Pieta House to liaise with the family and to review the issues raised.

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