Loss of a Child
Family finally discovers truth of five-year-old boy’s death in NHS surgery blunder 43 YEARS after the tragedy
Family finally discovers truth of five-year-old boy’s death in NHS surgery blunder 43 YEARS after the tragedy
- Carl Marrows lost his life because of errors by NHS hospital staff, inquest hears
- He suffered ‘massive blood loss’ due to a known complication of the procedure
- An inquest in 1986 put the five year old boy’s death down to natural causes
- Driven by a sense of injustice, his family challenged the decision years later
Published: 23:19, 14 February 2021 | Updated: 23:19, 14 February 2021
A family has won a 43-year fight to discover the truth about a five-year-old boy’s needless death following a hospital operation. Carl Marrows was originally said to have died from natural causes but in reality he lost his life because of errors by hospital staff, an inquest heard. A coroner, who reinvestigated the boy’s death after a legal battle by his family, concluded Carl had been the victim of neglect and ‘gross failure of care’. The ruling at a new inquest in Hull last week was welcomed by the boy’s father who said there had been a cover-up by hospital staff. The youngster, who had spina bifida, died following an operation in 1978 at Scunthorpe General Hospital to correct his gait. He suffered ‘massive blood loss’ due to a known complication of the procedure. An inquest in 1986 put the death down to natural causes but, driven by a sense of injustice, his family challenged the decision years later. Carl’s father John approached coroner Professor Paul Marks who uncovered records of the case, agreed the verdict was ‘not sustainable’ and backed his bid to have the inquest finding overturned at the High Court. The youngster, who had spina bifida, died following an operation in 1978 at Scunthorpe General Hospital to correct his gait. The hospital is seen above in later years . They succeeded and a fresh inquest was ordered. It heard how precautionary measures should have been taken in case Carl suffered bleeding after surgery. Instead of having a tube fitted to allow for the emergency treatment, he was simply sent to a ward. When a nurse realised something was wrong, there was a delay before a doctor arrived and staff were unable to save his life. Professor Marks said had the proper procedures been carried out Carl would not have gone into cardiac arrest and died. He also noted some medical records were incomplete. The coroner recorded a narrative conclusion including that neglect had led to the child’s death. Describing the death as sad and tragic, he added: ‘If Carl had survived this operation he would have been 49 this July. His family have conducted themselves with the deepest integrity and dignity throughout these proceedings.’
Carl’s father John approached coroner Professor Paul Marks who uncovered records of the case, agreed the verdict was ‘not sustainable’ and backed his bid to have the inquest finding overturned at the High Court. After the hearing Mr Marrows, 74, a retired HGV driver from Howsham, Lincolnshire, described Carl as ‘a very bright little lad’. He said: ‘The whole thing has been a cover up. They just did not want the hospital or the NHS to look bad. I am glad the truth has finally come out but it grieves me that my poor lad could still have been with us now.’
He said his ex-wife Jennifer, who died several years ago, was ‘hit hard’ by the tragedy and they split up. Dr Peter Reading, of Northern Lincolnshire and Goole NHS Trust, said: ‘We hope that this new inquest verdict brings the family some closure.’
‘My little boy died on Christmas in his festive pyjamas just three years after his brother’
Stephanie and Adam Curry’s first son lived for just 40 minutes, and the couple faced a second tragedy when their little boy, Teddy, died on Christmas Day last year.
By Ann Cusack & Zoe Forsey Lifestyle Editor
- 13:43, 1 DEC 2020
Stephanie and Adam Curry’s world fell apart when their gorgeous little boy, Louis, died in December 2016.
Then just three years later, on Christmas Day last year, they had to say goodbye to their two-year-old son, Teddy, as he lost his battle with a rare genetic condition.
The brave little boy was wearing his new Christmas pyjamas when he died in his heartbroken mum’s arms. Stephanie, a 34-year-old nurse, says: “Teddy was born one year after Louis, both boys were born just before Christmas and Teddy died at Christmas. “It gives me great comfort to know that my boys are together now. Before his death, Teddy completed a bucket list, which included a visit to Santa, a paddle in the sea, trick a treating, pumpkin picking, and visiting Blackpool lights.”
Adam and Stephanie met 14 years ago and were delighted when she fell pregnant in 2016 with their first child. The pregnancy went well but at 20 weeks the scan showed their baby had excess fluid around his brain. Tests showed he had the most severe form of spina bifida and they were advised to end the pregnancy. After much agonising, they opted for a compassionate miscarriage at 21 weeks, on December 4 2016. Stephanie, from Liverpool, says: “I had to take a tablet and I went into labour. We were heartbroken. We didn’t want our boy to suffer any longer and it seemed like the kindest choice. It took three days for the baby to be born and it was horrendous.”
Baby Louis lived for 40 minutes. The couple had the chance to baptise him and say goodbye. Stephanie says: “The coroner insisted on a full inquest for Louis which was very harrowing.”
The couple were anxious to try for another baby but were warned the chances of another baby with spina bifida were dramatically increased. Stephanie fell pregnant in March 2017. Scans showed no problems at all and the couple were hugely relieved. Baby Teddy was born on December 7, 2017 almost exactly a year after his big brother, Louis. Stephanie says: “I had a water birth and it was lovely, so peaceful. We couldn’t wait to meet our baby.”
Baby Teddy at first appeared perfectly healthy but medics quickly realised he was struggling to maintain his temperature and he was rushed to special care. Though he was allowed home, five days on, his problems continued. Stephanie says: “Teddy’s development was slower than other babies and we were worried about him. But the doctors told us not to worry, that it might not be anything serious. We were in denial too; we didn’t want to see the problems. We had lost one baby and we wanted everything to be OK this time. He was a lovely little boy, we adored him, and we just wanted to be parents.”
In July 2018, Teddy was diagnosed with peroxisomal disorder, a rare genetic, metabolic condition. His devastated parents were told he was deaf and was also losing his sight. Stephanie says: “We were heartbroken. We didn’t know how long Teddy would live but we knew he wouldn’t make it to adulthood.”
Determined to make the most of their time, Adam and Stephanie embarked on a bucket list of adventures for their little boy, which included paddling in the sea, riding a donkey, having his face painted, seeing Father Christmas, watching a Liverpool FC game, visiting the Blackpool lights, trick a treating, and bouncing on a bouncy castle. Teddy attended Liverpool v Newcastle on Boxing Day 2018 with his family where he met Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp and Liverpool star Trent Alexander-Arnold. Stephanie says: “Teddy was a lovely, smiley little boy. He loved all the attention and he really cheered people up, wherever he went. He was full of mischief and brought such light and happiness for us. He loved listening to classical music and also to whistling! I downloaded the world whistling championships onto my phone so we could play it for him wherever we went.”
But during 2019, Teddy began suffering seizures and his health deteriorated. In December he was admitted to hospital with breathing difficulties but was allowed home again on Christmas Eve. Stephanie says: “Teddy loved Christmas because of the lights and the fuss; he liked anything sensory because he could sense the lights despite his blindness. We had put up a tree and we bought him lots of presents. We also booked a holiday for him, but we knew the end was coming. We had been to see Santa and had bought Christmas pyjamas for Teddy to match with his cousins. On Christmas Eve, Teddy slept with us and Adam and I took it in turns to watch over him.”
On Christmas Day, at lunchtime, Teddy died in his mother’s arms wearing his Christmas pyjamas. Stephanie says: “Teddy opened his eyes and looked at us both for the last time. And then, very peacefully, he passed away. It was totally heart-breaking but also we knew that his struggle was at an end.”
Teddy’s funeral was held on January 3 this year, where his parents chose ‘How Long Will I Love You,’ and ‘Lullaby’, and Stephanie also wrote a poem.
Children who kill from shootings to stranglings, 12 evil kids and how they took another young life
Joshua Phillips was 14 when he murdered an eight year old and hid her body for six days, Jon Venables and Robert Thompson were 10 when they killed two-year-old James Bulger and Morgan Leppert was 15 when she killed a pensioner.
- 15:37, 22 FEB 2019
- Updated15:47, 22 FEB 2019
It’s rare for a child to commit a serious crime, and even rarer for that act to be murder. So when these cases make the news, they fascinate readers and stay in the public consciousness long after the trials have ended. Murder is such an extreme crime that even what motivates adult killers can remain mysterious. Getting to the bottom of what pushed a child to kill is even more difficult. Many such crimes involve children attacking those younger than them, usually with an age gap of six to eight years. Needing to feel powerful comes into some of the cases, as does curiosity wanting to know what killing feels like. Below, we take a closer look at some of the most chilling child murderers:
1. Aaron Campbell
Evil Campbell snatched six-year-old Alesha MacPhail from her bed as she visited her dad and grandparents on the Isle of Bute, Scotland, last July. The 16-year-old abducted, raped and murdered the 3ft 9ins youngster, causing “catastrophic” injuries, before dumping her body in woodland on the island. Alesha, a “smiley” little girl who was adored by her family, was later discovered facedown and naked at the site by a member of the public. A court heard she had 117 separate injuries. Campbell, who lived on the scenic and sparsely populated island, was yesterday found guilty of her abduction, rape, and murder by jurors. Judge Lord Matthews told the teenager he had committed some of the “wickedest, most evil crimes” Glasgow’s High Court had ever heard. He was found guilty of the horrific crime on February 21.
2. Danny and Ricky Preddie, 13 and 12 (2000)
Only after a third trial were teenage brothers Danny and Ricky Preddie jailed for killing 10-year-old Damilola Taylor. The young boy was walking home from Peckham Library in south-east London on a November day in 2000, when he received a gash to his left thigh from a broken bottle, as caught on CCTV. Star Wars actor John Boyega and his sister Grace were some of the last people to be spotted on the CCTV footage with Damilola while escorting his part of the way home. The three were friends and the Boyegas helped watch him. Damilola ran to a stairwell and bled to death in 30 minutes in the grim surroundings. Several theories around what caused his fatal wound were presented by forensic scientists in court, with the Metropolitan Police accepting that he was attacked and fell onto a broken bottle. The first trial led to acquittals after the key witness a 14-year-old girl was ruled unreliable by the judge. The jury in the second trial could not reach a verdict on the charges of manslaughter. At the end of the third trial, the two brothers by now over 18 years old were sentenced to eight years in youth custody. Ricky was released in 2010, and Danny followed the next year. Damilola’s story was made into a 2016 BBC drama, Our Loved Boy.
3. Eric Smith, 12 (1993)
While riding his bike through a local park in Steuben County, New York, 13-year-old Eric Smith bumped into four-year-old Derrick Robie who was walking alone. Smith lured the small boy into a wooded area, strangled him, dropped two large rocks on his head, and then sodomized the body with a tree limb. He was eventually convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to the maximum term then available for juvenile murderers: a minimum of nine years to life in prison. He has been refused parole eight times since 2001, and will next be up in 2018. In 2005, Smith claimed that his family life was abusive, and the effect upon him was as devastating as the bullying. However, his inability to express emotion while saying such words leads court psychologists to believe that Eric Smith could ever be fully rehabilitated and released into society.
4. Lionel Tate, 12 (1999)
Lionel Tate is the youngest American citizen ever to be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Tate was left alone with six-year-old Tiffany Eunick, who was being babysat by his mother, Kathleen Grossett-Tate. After 45 minutes of playing with the little girl, Tate told his mum that she wasn’t breathing, because he’s had her in a headlock and slammed her head on the table. In fact, her injuries ranged from a lacerated liver to a fractured skull, broken rib, and swollen brain – the prosecution said her injuries were consistent with those she would have sustained falling three stories to the ground. Tate had stomped on the little girl until she succumbed to her injuries. His life sentence was extremely controversial as he was so young to receive such a long sentence. The prosecution even joined the plea for leniency in sentencing and offered to help with Tate’s appeal. The conviction was overturned in 2004 on the basis that his mental competency had not been completely evaluated before the trial. He was released on one year’s house arrest and 10 years’ probation. He has committed further crimes since and is currently serving 10 years in prison. He is due for release in 2018.
5. Joshua Phillips, 14 (1998)
Joshua Phillips was allegedly playing with a baseball bat at home in Jacksonville, Florida, when he struck 8-year-old Maddie Clifton in the eye, causing it to bleed. Phillips claimed he panicked, fearing his father’s reaction, so he strangled her with a phone cord and stabbed her 11 times. He then hid her body in the pedestal of his waterbed, where his mother discovered it a week later. While the autopsy did not reveal any sexual assault, Maddie’s body was found nude from the waist down. The murder appears to have been motivated by Phillips’s fear of his abusive father, who would have been very angry had he found Maddie hurt at their house. Phillips, who had no history of violence, was charged as an adult with murder. He was found guilty of murder in the first degree, and sentenced to life without possibility of parole.
6. Craig Price, 15 (1989)
Craig Price had become a serial killer before the age of 16, having killed four people in his Rhode Island neighbourhood on the east coast of the US. Aged 13, in 1987, Price broke into the house two doors down from his own and stabbed 27-year-old Rebecca Spencer 58 times, killing her. He did not become a suspect in that case until confessing to the murder two years later after he went on to kill three other neighbours, while he was high on marijuana and LSD. The victims, 39-year-old Joan Heaton and her daughters Jennifer, 10, and Melissa, 8, were stabbed over 30 times each. Their wounds were so deep that the handles broke off the knives, leaving the blades embedded in the victims. In court, Price nonchalantly mimicked the dying cries of the Heaton girls, displaying no emotion even as he related such grim details as biting the face of one of the victims as he stabbed her. Price refused a court order to undergo further psychological testing, fearing the results would be used to commit him for life. Instead, he was jailed for 25 years, but his violent behaviour behind bars makes it unlikely he will ever be released.
7. Alyssa Bustamante, 15 (2009)
Alyssa Bustamante lured her 9-year-old neighbour Elizabeth Olten into the woods, where she strangled her, then slit her neck and wrists, before burying her in a shallow grave. Bustamante, of midwestern state Missouri, was a troubled teenager who had a history of depression, self-harm, and suicide attempts. “I just f***ing killed someone. I strangled them and slit their throat and stabbed them now they’re dead. I don’t know how to feel atm [at the moment],” Bustamante wrote in her diary.
She later added: “It was ahmazing. As soon as you get over the ‘ohmygawd I can’t do this’ feeling, it’s pretty enjoyable. I’m kinda nervous and shaky though right now. Kay, I gotta go to church now lol.”
Elizabeth’s mother, Patty Preiss called Bustamante “an evil monster” and said that she “hated her” on the first day of the teenager’s sentencing hearing. Alyssa was charged with first-degree murder and tried as an adult, getting a life sentence with the possibility of parole.
9. Jesse Pomeroy, 11 (1871)
The son of a Civil War veteran, Jesse Pomeroy was born in Boston in 1859. By the age of 11, he had begun luring younger boys to remote areas and beaten them with extreme brutality, using fists, a belt, and a knife. In 1872, he was finally arrested for the ongoing attacks and sentenced to reform school. The Boston Globe covered the story, and the last line of the article said: “It is generally concluded that the boy is mentally deficient.”
In 1874, Pomeroy was living back with his family, and attacked 10-year-old Mary Curran, then later, four-year-old Horace Mullin. He killed both youngsters, and their bodies were later found hidden in the basement of the house. They had been slashed, stabbed, and decapitated with a knife. Pomeroy was found guilty of murder in the first degree and sentenced to death by hanging. However, two years later, in 1876, his sentence was commuted to life in solitary.
9. Morgan Leppert, 15, (2009)
Leppert and her 22-year-old boyfriend at the time Toby Lee Lowry was convicted of the brutal murder of James Stewart, 62, in his own Florida home. Stewart was found lying on the floor of his Florida after being stabbed multiple times with metal rods and a knife and suffocated with a plastic bag over his head. In the police tapes, she told detectives: “[My boyfriend] told me to stab him. I poked him, it didn’t even go through for god’s sake.”
She places most of the blame with her ex-boyfriend, who testified against her in order to avoid the death penalty. The pair claimed that they killed Stewart to steal his car.
10. Willie Bosket, 15 (1978)
Willie Bosket was born in Harlem, New York to a father who killed two people shortly after his son was conceived, and thereafter spent his life in prison. Bosket junior was in and out of trouble growing up, a violent child, and wore this as a badge of honour, telling juvenile authorities that he would be a killer just like his father. He committed his first murder when he was 15-years-old, shooting and killing two men during separate robbery attempts. He also killed a transport worker before the police got to him. He was tried as a minor and was given 5 years in a youth facility a sentence seen as extremely light. The outcry against his sentence let to the Juvenile Offender Act of 1978, which ruled that children as young as 13 could be tried in New York’s adult courts for crimes as serious as murder and receive the same penalties as adults. Upon release aged 20, Bosket continued his life of crime, leaving and re-entering jail until receiving a life sentence for assault and arson while in prison in 1989.
11. Mary Bell, 11 (1968)
On the day before her 11th birthday, Mary Bell lured 4-year-old Martin Brown to an abandoned house in Newcastle, north-east England. Two months later, she strangled 3-year-old Brian Howe to death. The story of Bell’s childhood is particularly brutal. Her mother Betty was a prostitute who had tried to kill her daughter on more than one occasion, trying to make it look like an accident. On one such occasion, an independent witness saw Betty giving the pills to her daughter as sweets. Mary herself says she was subjected to repeated sexual abuse, her mother forcing her from the age of four to engage in sexual acts with men. During her trial, court-appointed psychiatrists said Bell displayed classic signs of psychopathy. The judge described her as dangerous and still posing a risk to children. After serving her 12-year sentence, Bell was released in 1980, and has lived under a series of pseudonyms since, which have been extended to cover the daughter she had aged 27.
12. Jon Venables and Robert Thompson, both 10 (1993)
Jon Venables and Robert Thompson became the youngest convicted murderers in England after killing 2-year-old James Bulger in 1993. They abducted the toddler from a shopping centre in Bootle, Merseyside, and took him to a disused railway line, where they began torturing him. They threw paint in his eye, kicked and stomped on him, threw bricks and stones at him, then dropped a 10kg iron plate on him. The case pathologist said that there were so many injuries 42 in total that not one could be isolated as causing the fatal injury. The boys left Bulger laid across the railway tracks with his head weighed down. After they left the scene, his body was cut in half by a train. A pathologist confirmed that the little boy had died before the train hit him. After trial and conviction, the now 11-year-old boys were sentenced to serve 15 years. The huge media interest in the trial as well as their young ages led to numerous reviews of their sentence, going all the way up to the European Court of Human Rights. The boys were released from prison on licence in 2001, aged 18, with new identities to protect them for life. Jon Venables has been in and out of prison since, on charges including accessing child pornography.
Children Who Kill with Susanna Reid ITV 9pm tonight (Thu)
My niece and nephew-in-law went through with the devastion of their second child, a daughter, having Trisomy 18. She lived for a day and looked perfect but it doesn’t take away the pain they live with.
“Is she in pain?” I asked quietly as the pearlescent baby-shaped image on the screen folded its legs and then extended them.
The radiologist doing my ultrasound had just finished pointing out a cluster of alarming abnormalities in our developing daughter, using a slew of medical terms my husband and I, both medical students, were grimly familiar with. Pleural effusion: fluid surrounding one of her lungs, preventing it from expanding and developing properly. Ascites: excess fluid inside the abdomen, surrounding her organs. Cystic hygroma: a large, fluid-filled mass on her neck, strongly associated with chromosomal abnormalities. Something was very wrong with our baby.
A few hours later, I lay on a hospital exam table. Arms folded over my head, I tried to stay still as a specialist in maternal/fetal medicine used a large needle to pierce my abdominal wall and then my uterus in order to take a sample of the placenta for genetic testing. After an agonizing two weeks, the results came back: our daughter had trisomy 18. My husband and I immediately understood the gravity of this diagnosis it is one of those rare conditions we expected to encounter on a medical board exam, not in real life.
Trisomy 18 is rare, occurring in about 1 in 2,500 pregnancies. The cells of these babies have three copies of chromosome 18 instead of the usual two. There is no cure. Most babies with trisomy 18 die before they are born. The majority of those who make it to term die within five to 15 days, usually due to severe heart and lung defects. The few who live past one year have serious health problems, such as a toddler lacking abdominal wall muscles, revealing the slithering movement of intestines beneath his skin, or a 1-year-old who cannot not defecate on her own, requiring anal sphincter dilation multiple times each day.
In rare cases, babies with trisomy 18 are mosaic, meaning only some cells possess the harmful extra chromosome, which makes the disease less severe. Our daughter was not mosaic.
As parents, we felt it was our duty to protect our daughter from the inevitable suffering she would meet if she were to make it to term. And so, at 15 weeks of gestation, we made the painful decision to end our very wanted pregnancy.
As the date approached, I wore bulky clothing in an effort to hide my protruding belly I was terrified someone would congratulate me on my pregnancy. Each day, I hoped that our daughter had not developed sufficient neural connections to begin sensing that her organs were failing. Using our home Doppler monitor, a Christmas gift from my sister, we listened to her heartbeat. Two days later, I tried to hear her heartbeat again, but it was no longer there. She had already died.
When I woke up from the dilation and evacuation procedure, during which her remains were removed from my body, I cried. I had never felt such profound emptiness.
My husband and I were given a small box sealed with a bow. It contained a tiny baby’s hat and a thick piece of paper marked with purple footprints the size of my thumbnail. Her footprints.
We had her remains cremated and placed her ashes in a tiny white urn small enough to fit in the palm of my hand. It felt good to have her home, even if it wasn’t in the way we had expected.
For such a heartbreaking event, we had the best-case scenario. My husband and I are medically literate. Our medical costs were fully covered by my insurance. I received care at one of the best hospitals in the country. We received superior counseling from multiple physicians and a genetics counselor, who helped inform us and support us without dictating or judging our decision. The day of my surgery, I was treated like any other surgical patient.
Other families aren’t as lucky as mine. A few months after my loss, my friend Jamie ended her pregnancy due to trisomy 18. I was horrified and saddened by her description of her experience.
As a Missouri resident, Jamie’s insurance did not cover pregnancy termination in the case of severe fetal impairment. Because their local hospital was charging them $8,000 for the procedure, Jamie and her husband, cash-poor from a recent home purchase, opted to drive to an abortion clinic. Protesters shouted at them as they entered the clinic: “Why would you want to hurt daddy’s little girl? That’s daddy’s little girl you’re killing!”
Once inside the facility, Jamie had an ultrasound to confirm the cost of the procedure, which would be based on the baby’s gestational age. She and her husband were informed that the procedure would cost an extra $100 boosting the cost to $800 because the center’s clinicians disagreed with the gestational age that Jamie and her husband had reported. The clinic asserted that the baby was a bit older, making the procedure more costly. Jamie and her husband found themselves in the twisted position of having to haggle the cost of their own nightmare.
Eventually, Jamie underwent the procedure. Feet in stirrups, she received a “comfort shot” an extra $60 which I later learned meant an injection of fentanyl, a powerful narcotic. She was vaguely awake throughout the procedure and has spent the months since actively suppressing the dim, distressing memories of the termination.
After it was over, Jamie and her husband were not able to obtain the remains of their baby, nor were the remains sent for genetic analysis to determine whether their child’s form of trisomy 18 was heritable or not, as my husband and I had learned from genetic analysis. The center did not send a pathology report to Jamie’s obstetrician until many weeks later, and only after she phoned the center multiple times.
According to the Guttmacher Institute, 26 states prohibit abortion coverage in Affordable Care Act marketplace plans, and 11 states extend these restrictions to private insurance companies, effectively eviscerating Roe v. Wade. Only one of these states (Utah) makes an exception in the case of severe fetal impairment. In these states, only the wealthiest have access to pregnancy termination.
Social media urged to take ‘moment to reflect’ after girl’s death
Children’s Commissioner for England writes open letter highlighting ‘horrific’ content
Richard Adams Education editor
Wed 30 Jan 2019 00.00 GMT
The children’s commissioner for England has accused social media companies such as Facebook and Snapchat of losing control of the content carried on their platforms, telling them that recent teen suicides should be a “moment of reflection” for the way they operate. In an open letter to Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, YouTube, Pinterest and Snapchat, Anne Longfield said the suicide of 14-year-old Molly Russell has highlighted the “horrific” material that children were able to easily access online. “The recent tragic cases of young people who had accessed and drawn from sites that post deeply troubling content around suicide and self-harm, and who in the end took their own lives, should be a moment of reflection,” Longfield told the companies.
“I would appeal to you to accept there are problems and to commit to tackling them or admit publicly that you are unable to.”
Molly’s father Ian has said that social media was partly to blame for his daughter’s death, after her Instagram account was found to contain distressing material about depression and suicide. “The potential disruption to all user experiences should no longer be a brake on making the safety and wellbeing of young people a top priority. Neither should hiding behind servers and apparatus in other jurisdictions be an acceptable way of avoiding responsibility,” Longfield added.
Longfield reiterated her call for an independent “digital ombudsman” to ensure that the companies protect young children and speed up the removal of disturbing material. “I do not think it is going too far to question whether even you, the owners, any longer have any control over their content,” Longfield wrote.
“If that is the case, then children should not be accessing your services at all, and parents should be aware that the idea of any authority overseeing algorithms and content is a mirage.”
A spokesperson for Facebook, which also owns Instagram and WhatsApp, said: “We have a huge responsibility to make sure young people are safe on our platforms and working together with the government, the children’s commissioner and other companies are the only way to make sure we get this right. Our thoughts are with Molly’s family and with the other families who have been affected by suicide or self-harm. We are undertaking a full review of our policies, enforcement, and technologies and are consulting further with mental health experts to understand what more we can do.”
Longfield’s letter included questions that she wanted to be answered by the companies, including how many self-harm sites or postings are hosted on their platforms, and how many are accessed by users under the age of 18. The companies were also asked to reveal the results of their own research into the impact of self-harm sites on children’s mental health, and what support options are offered to users searching for images of self-harm. “It is your responsibility to support measures that give children the information and tools they need growing up in this digital world or to admit that you cannot control what anyone sees on your platforms,” Longfield told the companies.
The intervention comes after Ofcom this week said the proportion of 12- to 15-year-olds who reported being bullied over social media rose from 6% in 2016 to 11% last year. Snapchat said its public content was moderated and “highly curated”, using only content from leading media companies and celebrities, and collected from other users by its in-house news team or professional partners. “We work hard to keep Snapchat a safe and supportive place for everyone. From the outset we have sought to connect our community with content that is authoritative and credible and safeguard against harmful content and disinformation,” said a spokesperson.
In the UK, Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123 or email email@example.com. In the US, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. In Australia, the crisis support service Lifeline is 13 11 14. Other international suicide helplines can be found at www.befrienders.org.