‘Opportunities missed’ to examine Facebook accounts of teenage boys from same school who committed suicide

Truman Edley
Truman Edley
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Opportunities were missed in investigating the link between the suicides of two boys who attended the same South Yorkshire school, their parents have claimed.

Truman Edley and Oliver King died in similar circumstances, 15 months apart.

Oliver King in 2011

Oliver King in 2011

The mothers of the boys say police were unable to access the private Facebook messages sent and received prior to the deaths, because the accounts had been frozen by the time officers tried to examine them.

The pair both attended Wickersley School and, although they did not know each other, had a friend in common.

A third severe self-harm incident involving another boy from the school occurred three months after Oliver’s death.

Nicola Edley and Diane King, mothers of the two boys, first met after Oliver’s suicide and began to realise the similarities between the two cases.

Wickersley School in Rotherham

Wickersley School in Rotherham

They had a friend in common, started listening to different music and changed the way they dressed in the months before their deaths.

Truman died, aged 15, in November 2011, and 16-year-old Oliver died in February 2013. Both boys took their lives through hanging.

Their mums say police missed the chance to read the private Facebook messages of the boys which may have provided more information about why they decided to take their lives.

Nicola says it took ‘weeks’ for the police to examine Truman’s phone and eight months to look at his iPod, which he could use to go on Facebook.

And she says, by the time they were examined, Truman’s Facebook account had been frozen, so police were unable to look at what messages he had sent and received.

Diane says there were ‘unbelievable’ similarities between the circumstances leading up to the deaths of both boys.

“It was just uncanny,” she says.

The pair have spoken to officers in charge of both cases about the connections between the deaths of the two boys, but say it took a few months to launch a criminal investigation.

Nicola says: “They just saw it as a series of unfortunate events. We were begging them really.

“We said if you don’t do anything, it is going to happen again – and it nearly did.”

Diane says the police had similar problems getting access to Oliver’s Facebook page and private messages.

“They didn’t even know there were private messages held on Facebook,” she says. “I don’t think they even tried to look. Nobody has seen either of their private messages.”

She said witness statements should have also been taken on the night of Oliver’s death.

Nicola says: “You put your trust in the police and the people who are supposed to be helping you that they are doing the right thing.

“When you look back it is not the case.”

And both grieving mums say they have been disappointed by the response from the school.

Nicola says: “I sent them a letter asking what measures to prevent it happening again had been put in place and never got a reply.”

And the pair say they were unhappy the school’s headteacher had refused to contribute to a review into teenage suicides in Rotherham, which was sparked by the Wickersley incidents, and urged headteacher David Hudson to answer questions on the school’s response to the tragedies.

The criminal investigation was ended after police found there to be ‘no evidence of criminality’.

The pair had hoped to raise some of their concerns at their sons’ inquests, but say they were ‘shut down straight away’ when they tried to raise the issue of the apparent links between the two cases.

Nicola says: “It wasn’t allowed to be discussed. We have lost our children and then we have been kept in the dark.

“At the end of the day, the real truth needs to come out.

“There are lots of answers, but we won’t get them. We just want the full information about what happened.”

An independent review of teenage suicides in Rotherham said police had not had the ‘ability/resources to investigate social media’.

The report, which was ordered by Rotherham Council following a spate of teen suicides in the town, said: “It was reported police did not have the ability to investigate social media as data protection legislation precluded access to certain websites accessed by young people.

“There is a high-tech forensic police unit in Rotherham and there are facilities to monitor some specific websites.

“However, because of the volume of activity on such sites and the limitations on police resource surveillance, it is extremely difficult.”

As part of the report’s recommendations, the review said police should use trained family liaison officers in cases of teenage suicides, with the officers liaising with investigators about looking at social media pages ‘should this be required’.

It has called for discussion of what social media surveillance could be conducted immediately after suicides - looking for examples of messages that may indicate a student is being bullied or comments that potentially show they are at risk of self-harming.

The report has also called for the coroner’s office to review how it deals with bereaved families in suicide cases and ensures “they include all relatives’ views at the inquest and provide an appropriate level of sensitivity/empathy to bereaved relatives”.

Police have confirmed officers had been ‘unable to access’ the boys’ private Facebook messages.

A spokesman for South Yorkshire Police said: “South Yorkshire Police investigates all sudden deaths and where there is no evidence of criminality the matter will be referred to the coroner.

“Officers investigated the tragic deaths of both boys and in both cases efforts were made to access their Facebook accounts.

“Unfortunately, despite extensive efforts to obtain passwords, this was not possible and we were unable to access the information that was privately held.

“South Yorkshire Police did not contact Facebook to gain access to the accounts, which is a lengthy process.

“The independent review highlighted that the service provided by the force was ‘highly rated’ and ‘overwhelmingly positive’.

“South Yorkshire Police regularly reviews its processes to ensure our response to such tragic incidents is appropriate.

“We work closely with our partner agencies to ensure support is put in place for families.”