GARDAI have launched a criminal investigation into the death of a teenager whose mother believes that he was cyberbullied in the weeks before he took his own life.
Darren Hughes-Gibson (17) was found dead at Stephenstown Industrial Estate in Balbriggan, north county Dublin on August 23, 2012. He had been reported missing by his mother, Elaine Hughes, when he failed to return to their home at New Haven Bay in Balbriggan the previous night.
Dublin Coroner’s Court heard that gardaí are now investigating the allegations of harassment of Darren prior to his death.
The inquest had previously heard from Ms Hughes that he may have received threatening messages on Facebook which were subsequently deleted. She told the court she believes her son was being bullied because he was mixed race and had a hearing aid. She also submitted text messages she found on his phone which Dublin coroner Dr Brian Farrell has described as “highly inappropriate” with some having a “threatening undertone”. “I feel if it were not for those messages, he would still be here,” Ms Hughes told him at the time.
When the matter was last mentioned before Dr Farrell in June, gardaí claimed that they had been liaising with the FBI on retrieving the messages from Facebook but the company was not co-operating. Following the hearing, Ms Hughes appealed to Facebook to “show some compassion” by releasing the messages to the coroner. The hearing prompted Facebook to issue a statement saying they will “respond to valid legal requests for information” and that they “encourage law enforcement agencies to follow our guidelines to help take their cases forward”. The inquest had been adjourned so the coroner could make his own inquiries about accessing the messages directly.
Updating the coroner on the gardaí's efforts, Detective Inspector Kieran Holohan said that a criminal investigation into potential harassment is being carried out. The investigation will provide grounds for the application to access Darren’s Facebook accounts, the court heard.
“It is not enough that we have belief, we must be able to have facts that we can communicate to the American authorities. In that regard, we are carrying out a review of the investigation. We have already interviewed Ms Hughes and we have a number of other inquiries to carry out that will ground our actions to correctly manage an application through mutual assistance over to the American authorities to get the information. That is what we are endeavouring to do,” he said.
Steps were taken to preserve Darren’s Facebook account on August 21, he said, and should there be any difficulties with the investigation, gardaí will reapply for a continuation of the preservation order.
Once the grounds for the application are in place, garda headquarters will forward the request on to the American authorities who will then take it to Facebook, the court heard.
Coroner Dr Brian Farrell told Ms Hughes that that he cannot advance the matter further at the moment. “We will have to wait and see what happens,” he said, before adjourning the inquest for further mention in December.