Tougher regulation of the internet is needed to stop websites giving detailed instructions on how to commit suicide, a coroner said before the inquests of five of the 17 young people believed to have killed themselves in Bridgend.
Philip Walters, who has been investigating a string of suspected suicides in the area since January 2007, singled out video-sharing websites such as YouTube for criticism.
In one YouTube clip, viewed by the Bridgend coroner, an American man explains how to tie a hangman's noose and mentions his growing fanbase in the UK.
Walters said the man's diary was very disturbing and that there was no doubt it was encouraging people to take their own lives: If that was not the case, why bother to instruct people to commit suicide?
Websites that encourage people to commit suicide could be shut down under changes to the law. The sites offer users tips on taking their own life and have been linked to around 27 deaths in Britain over the last six years.
The Government is considering closing a legal 'loophole' to outlaw the advice. Under laws introduced in 1961 aiding or encouraging suicide is illegal - but only if the offender met the victim face to face.
Madeleine Moon, MP for Bridgend in south Wales where a number of the 20 recent suicides are believed to have involved suicide sites and chatrooms, said: These sites can only be described as truly evil. The law needs to be changed. These
websites are horrendous. They push and push people to kill themselves and tell them how to do it.
Vernon Coaker, the Home Office minister, told a committee of MPs that the Government was determined to act: Aiding and abetting suicide, online or offline, is illegal. Something should be done about it and they should be taken down .
A spokesman for the Ministry of Justice said: There are difficulties as many of them are based overseas, but we're considering whether the law can be strengthened.
The law on pro-suicide websites is to be 'rewritten' to ensure people know that such are illegal, the government has said.
It follows findings that people searching for information on suicide are more likely to find sites encouraging the act than offering support.
It is illegal under the 1961 Suicide Act to promote suicide, but no website operator has been prosecuted. The law will be amended to make clear it applies online and to help service providers police the sites they host.
Justice Minister Maria Eagle said there was no "magic solution" to protecting vulnerable people online: Updating the language of the Suicide Act, however, should help to reassure people that the internet is not a lawless environment
and that we can meet the challenges of the digital world. It is important, particularly in an area of such wide public interest and concern, for the law to be expressed in terms that everyone can understand.
Ms Eagle said she hoped the changes would be in force by next year but warned there are "inherent difficulties" with policing "suicide websites" as most are based overseas.
Internet and Video Games
Westminster Hall debates
Thursday, 13 November 2008
Madeleine Moon (PPS (Rt Hon Jim Knight, Minister of State), Department for Children, Schools and Families; Bridgend, Labour)
This week, I was sent an online game to look at. The online game is called Billy Suicide. Players of the game are encouraged to stop Billy shooting himself in the head. They are encouraged to keep Billy active—to move
him around the room or get him to play his guitar—and to monitor his depression, get him a cup of coffee and do things to stop him taking his life. When people playing the game do not do that, he shoots himself in the head. Someone has said to
me, Well, it's just the same as the tamagotchi games. In those games, if someone does not look after their pet, it gets fleas and dies.
What sort of society do we want? What sort of society are we promulgating? I would welcome the censorship of that online game. We must set limits and boundaries when we bring up our children. As a society, we set limits and boundaries on
individual behaviour. We must start setting limits and boundaries in the online world and in cyberspace. If we do not, we will give our youngsters access to information and standards that, in fact, destroy the limits and values we set in the real
world. As we know, sometimes our young people spend more time interacting in the online, unreal world than they do in the real world.
I am worried about the role that these sites play in relation to social contagion, which is where access to information about suicide—the normalisation of suicide and its social acceptability—makes it more likely that others will seek to take
their own lives. We must take responsibility for the distress to the families and friends I have mentioned. We must also take responsibility for prolonging the grief of those families and friends, because that adds to the risk that a member of
that family will take their own life.
The Press Complaints Commission is making progress on the matter, but I agree that an industry body is needed. It is imperative that we have an 0800 number that someone can ring to get a site taken down quickly. That is something I hope will come
out of Lord Carter's review. My constituent had been trying to get a site taken down for two months before she came to me—two months with no action. We cannot allow such behaviour to continue. It is too complex to track down the person in these
agencies who will allow change to happen. The public need to be able to send through their comments quickly.
I have highlighted the impact of the industry on just one small community in one small area. That impact has been devastating and has blighted the lives of many people. I am so grateful that the Committee has taken the opportunity to make these
recommendations, and I hope that steps will be taken across Government to improve a totally unacceptable unregulated state of affairs.
Dave Lasala, creator of controversial Flash game Billy Suicide , has hit back at organisations campaigning for its removal from the internet.
His comments come after The Telegraph contacted the Samaritans and PAPYRUS (Prevention of Young Suicide), and printed responses claiming the game was both irresponsible and a catalyst to influence the behaviour of people who are already
vulnerable to suicide.
I wanted the game Billy Suicide to be an exaggerated self-portrait, Dave Lasala explained to Eurogamer. I also wanted to use it to look at a difficult subject with a sense of humour. I feel I have some authority on the subject, having
rescued two brothers from suicide attempts.
Anyway, it seems to me that people blame violent art, angry music and horror movies for negative behaviour because it's easier to reduce complex issues down to a neat one-sentence solution, like, 'If there were no violent movies there would be
I would encourage everyone to check out the Oscar-winning documentary Bowling for Columbine for an in-depth examination of this behaviour. That being said, the object of the game Billy Suicide is to keep him alive.
The Government have included a clause in the Coroners And Justice Bill to extend the crime of encouraging suicide to websites and internet messaging services etc.
Part 2- Criminal Offences
Clause 46: Encouraging or assisting suicide: England and Wales
It provides that a person will commit an offence if he or she does an act which is capable of encouraging or assisting another person to commit or attempt to commit suicide, and if he or she intends the act to encourage another person to commit
or attempt to commit suicide.
The person committing the offence need not know, or even be able to identify, the other person. So, for example, the author of a website promoting suicide who intends that one or more of his or her readers will commit or
attempt to commit suicide is guilty of an offence, even though he or she may never know the identity of those who access the website.
Clause 48 and Schedule 10: Encouraging or assisting suicide: providers of information society services
Ensures that providers of information society services who are established in England, Wales or Northern Ireland are covered by the offence of encouraging or assisting suicide even when they are operating in other European Economic Area states.
Paragraphs 4 to 6 of the Schedule provide exemptions for internet service providers from the offence in limited circumstances, such as where they are acting as mere conduits for information that is capable, and provided
with the intention, of encouraging or assisting suicide or are storing it as caches or hosts.
The Coroners And Justice Bill also reinforces the general internet position that laws apply to a person or company that is established within the jurisdiction of the law even if the website or service is operated from elsewhere. Eg
if British residents use foreign internet services or web hosting they are still liable to UK law.
Users of a website who helped a stranger couple commit suicide have been warned they face up to 14 years in jail.
Joanne Lee and truck driver Steve Lumb were found dead in a Vauxhall Astra parked alongside an area of overgrown wasteland on an industrial estate. They had gassed themselves after meeting just hours earlier after making contact on the internet.
It has emerged that Miss Lee, who used the user name Heaven's Little Girl, received advice and encouragement on a German hosted internet forum in the days leading up to her death.
Cyber friends had given her tips on how to successfully kill herself and expressed their sorrow that she had failed to end her life on previous suicide attempts.
Miss Lee had written: I haven't the strength to do this alone. I have all the ingredients and want to do it ASAP. You should... be willing to pick me up when it is time to (kill myself). If you are "very" serious, please email me
Answering the advert Lumb then drove 200 miles to Braintree, Essex, and shortly after the pair were dead.
A Ministry of Justice spokesman confirmed that anyone who promotes or encourages suicide on a website could face prosecution and jail. She added that even if no suicide attempts take place as a result of the information, the author could still be
found guilty of an offence.
The law was amended last year to deal with cases such as these. It reads:
Under section 2(1) of the Suicide Act 1961 (as amended by section 59 of the Coroners and Justice Act 2009) it is an offence to do an act capable of encouraging or assisting the suicide or attempted suicide of another person
with the intention to so encourage or assist.
The person committing the offence need not know the other person or even be able to identify them.
Brooks Newmark, Conservative MP for Braintree, Essex, said: We need to do far more to deal with these suicide websites which unfortunately lead to tragedies like this. It's not a question of more regulation but of better regulation and also
figuring out how we can close down websites such as these.
Websites that encourage people to commit suicide or make death pacts with strangers must be closed down, ministers will insist this week.
In the absence of any official organisation to monitor such websites, ISPs are to be told they have an obligation to shut down these chatrooms and forums, as part of the Government's suicide prevention strategy.
Promoting suicide is already outlawed under the 1961 Suicide Act, but this has never been used to prosecute a website operator. Officials say the law does not apply only to face-to-face meetings, and should be enforced more rigorously if
companies fail to shut down offending websites.
Health Minister Paul Burstow said:
One of the nastier sides of social media is the emergence of websites which are almost coaching people into how to commit suicide and offering the possibility of pacts with other people to commit suicide -- really evil
Websites begin in a therapeutic way - I think because the people who run them think it's a place for people to share how they feel when they are very low and don't have much hope in life.
Then they move from being therapeutic to being supportive, a friend network. But the end result is it becomes a closed circle... nobody on those websites is going to confess to anybody outside.
It becomes a depressive circle of people talking about all types of things, which give them knowledge - because the sites give you various ways of taking life if that is the decision you chose - and friendship with people
thinking the same way.
They use all kinds of words like 'Catching the bus or Making the journey - slang words - other people might not understand.'
Telcos face being regulated by the government if they fail to block websites offering advice on suicide, the health minister Norman Lamb has warned. He said that one of the areas of concern was the lack of awareness about websites offering
guidance on suicide.
This week, the government has launched a campaign in England to help prevent people from committing suicide, especially those considered to be in at-risk groups. The Department of Health said that it wanted to work:
with the media, and with the internet industry through members of the UK Council for Child Internet Safety (UKCCIS) to help parents ensure their children are not accessing harmful suicide-related websites, and to increase the availability and
take-up of effective parental controls to reduce access to harmful websites.
The Sunday Times reported that Lamb had bluntly noted ahead of today's strategy that regulation would follow if internet service providers did not step in to offer protection. He said:
These horrific suicide websites are just one example of the dangerous and disturbing online content which, without proper controls, our children can access almost at any time.
The Register contacted broadband industry lobby group ISPA, which said:
A previous government review found that the law on encouraging suicide was fit for purpose for the digital age. ISPs will remove content they host that is illegal once notified, but are not always best placed to judge on whether content is
illegal or not.