we need to curb the cyberbullies

Deborah Smith with her stepdaughter Hannah, whose tragic death has shocked the country.
Deborah Smith with her stepdaughter Hannah, whose tragic death has shocked the country.

The grieving Leven stepmum of tragic teenage cyberbullying victim Hannah Smith has told of her family’s heartbreak.

Deborah Smith is calling for tougher new legislation to protect children and young people while they are online and on social network sites.

And she stressed cyber- bullying did not just happen in a small corner of England – it was going on in many households all over Britain.

Deborah (42) spoke to the Mail days after the tragic death of her 14-year-old stepdaughter, Hannah.

The teenager, of Lutterworth, Leicestershire, took her own life on August 2, having received abusive messages when she posted on the site Ask.fm.

Her father Dave (45) launched an e-petition calling for tighter regulations and a Facebook page was set up in tribute to Hannah.

Cruelly, the vile taunts continued and the page had to be removed.

Another, which is monitored constantly, has been set up in its place – with the family defiant that the bullies will not win.

Deborah lived in Leven, Methil, Windygates and St Monans before meeting Dave through a mutual friend and moving to Leicestershire in 2000.

The couple split three years ago but have remained good friends and are helping each other through their tragic loss.

“The support we have had from Fife has been phenomenal,” she said.

Deborah Smith, formerly of Levenmouth, and stepmother of 14-year-old Hannah, also said internet service providers and the Government had a responsibility, as did parents.

Hannah, of Leicesterhire, committed suicide after receiving abusive responses to messages she had posted on the social network site Ask.fm.

Deborah told the Mail she and Hannah’s father Dave wanted to help prevent another family enduring a predicament like theirs.

“No family should ever have to go through the pain we are going through,” she said.

“I would not wish it on any other family in the world.”

A number of Fife families have also been affected by the tragedy – Deborah’s mum still lives in Methil, and there are also relatives in Kirkcaldy, Glenrothes and Oakley, while Hannah had also enjoyed a family holiday in Levenmouth as recently as June.

Children and young people had to be given as much protection in terms of safeguards online as they were in real-life society, said Deborah, who was previously an adult learning support worker with Fife Council.

She lived in Levenmouth and the East Neuk until moving to Leicestershire 13 years ago.

The internet was part of every young person’s life today and education demanded that children were computer-literate at an early age, she added. But with that came the duty to protect them online.

The type of victimisation that drove Hannah to take her life was far more widespread than people realised, said 
Deborah.

”The tragic and indescribable situation we are experiencing is not just something that happened down south. Cyberbullying can happen anywhere – and the frightening thing is, it can be in your own home.”

Many young people may be caught up in the whole cycle of how acceptable insulting 
messages might be, she added, but they were not.

“Think twice before you tap those keys. Think what is there and how hurtful it may be to the other person,” said Deborah.

Latvian-based Ask.fm has declared it will carry out a full and independent audit of the site and its safety features, while Prime Minister David Cameron has urged people to boycott troll-infested sites and for companies to ‘clean up their act’.

However, said Deborah, both had “fallen well short with their responses”.

“The campaign Hannah’s dad has launched – which is fully supported by me and all his family – carries the mesage that companies like Ask.fm and the Government are failing to safeguard our children properly while they are online.

“There is responsibility to be taken by Ask.fm and other sites just like it to adopt stricter regulations and have sufficient numbers of moderators and administrators to manage sites of such a massive scale, act on complaints when received, and monitor for bullying and harrassment.

“They need to review what is viewed as acceptable behaviour – bullying or taunting of young people is not – and act on inappropriate comments.

“However, even with all of this, what’s being missed by our Government and multi million-pound internet companies is the bigger picture. As a society, we need to tackle and address cyberbullying together. As providers of a service, they have a responsibility – as a Government, they have a responsibility, as do we as parents.”

“We will continue to fight this. However, for now, I need to step back for a wee bit and grieve for my gorgeous girl.

“All I ask is for people in Fife to be aware of the issue and consider signing and circulating the petition logged wth Government.”

The petition can be found at http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/48886, while Deborah also advised parents of a list of acronyms in common online use, at http://www.netlingo.com/top50/acronyms-for-parents.php.

A service for Hannah is taking place at St Mary’s Church in Lutterworth on August 16.