Monday 18 June 2018

'There was a message telling him to go and kill himself'

A woman whose son took his own life found dark secrets on his phone, writes Louise Roseingrave

Elaine Hughes holding a picture of her son, Darren Hughes Gibson
Elaine Hughes holding a picture of her son, Darren Hughes Gibson

Louise Roseingrave

Darren Hughes Gibson loved football, Robbie Williams and taking his dog for walks. He was 17 when he took his own life.

Following his death, his mother Elaine Hughes made a spine-chilling discovery on his phone when she inadvertently found 10 text messages from a saved contact.

"Initially after we lost Darren I couldn't get into his phone, it was locked. But at one of the earlier inquest hearings we got the phone back. I remember it lighting up in my handbag. That had never happened before the guards had unlocked it," she said.

Initially there was just one text saved on it, a message that Darren had sent to her before his tragic, untimely death.

"It was a farewell message saying he was sorry he had to do this and he loved all of us."

Elaine had no idea that Darren was being bullied. There was no noticeable change in his behaviour. He had been bullied in the past and had told her. The school became involved and the issues were resolved. Elaine thought Darren felt he could talk to her about anything.

He was found dead at Stephenstown Industrial Estate in Balbriggan, Co Dublin, on August 23, 2012.

"I'd no idea. I question that all the time. How didn't I know? Why didn't I know? He was so happy-go-lucky. He had great banter with everyone. He was the eldest, very protective. He talked about becoming a mechanic," she said.

Darren had complete hearing loss in his left ear and wore a hearing aid in his right ear. He had been singled out before because of this and the colour of his skin.

A Facebook page was created in the wake of Darren's death and it was messages posted here that first alerted Elaine to allegations of bullying.

"I read comments referencing that he'd been bullied, that one of the bullies attended his funeral.

"Messages like: 'You know who you are. You know what you did. You drove him to this.' I contacted the guards and I was told that this would be dealt with at the inquest.

"We felt our hands were tied. At the inquest I told [former coroner] Dr Brian Farrell of my suspicions. He directed the guards to examine Darren's phone," she said.

Once the guards unlocked the phone, Elaine was able to view its contents for the first time.

"There were pictures of himself and pictures of the dog. And there was a video where he is with his friends and we can hear him talking and laughing," she said.

Elaine was searching through the phone when she found a 'retrieve messages' prompt, "kind of by accident".

"There was a message where they told him to go and kill himself. He answered the text and said 'do you want me dead?' And they said 'yes'. Their name was on the message. It was saved as a contact.

"They said if they saw him around town, they were going to break his legs.

"So many different emotions ran through my mind at that moment. I remember thinking that they had just literally broken him."

Elaine immediately contacted gardai. Three weeks later officers collected Darren's phone for a second time for examination. She has not seen it since.

At the next inquest hearing, Elaine reported to the coroner her concern that Darren was bullied online via Facebook in addition to the text messages. A warrant was obtained by US authorities to retrieve the messages from Darren's Facebook page.

On January 18, the latest inquest hearing was told that the DPP had directed no prosecution over Darren's death. Elaine has since made a formal application requesting a review of the decision and access to the Garda file, which contains more than 5,000 Facebook messages. "I have to know what he went through," she said.

She believes the reason Darren said nothing is because there were threats made against the family.

"People said there were threats against the family. I think that would have pushed Darren over the edge. If there was a threat against us' he wouldn't tell me because he'd try to protect us. That was his nature.

"These sites need to be regulated. There should be some form of repercussions for the bullies. But my main goal is to change the law. The Government need to take action and legislate. This is out of control.

"Darren should be here with us."

Sunday Independent

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