herald

Saturday 10 December 2016

Facebook hands over messages sent to youth who took his own life

Elaine Hughes (Steve Humphreys)
Elaine Hughes (Steve Humphreys)

Gardai have received 2,500 pages of deleted messages from the Facebook account of a teenager whose mother believes was bullied online before taking his own life.

The information came from Facebook through US authorities following an application by the DPP, an inquest heard.

Darren Hughes Gibson (17) was found dead at Stephenstown Industrial Estate in Balbriggan, north Co Dublin, on August 23, 2012.

He had been reported missing by his mother, Elaine Hughes, after he failed to return to the family home at New Haven Bay the previous night.

Harassment

Det Insp Kieran Holohan of Balbriggan Garda Station said gardai had downloaded and saved 2,500 pages of messages sent to and from Darren's Facebook account. They were deleted after his death.

"We applied to Facebook and got the information back," he said.

The information provided by Facebook includes messages sent after Darren's death, Dublin Coroner's Court heard.

"There are messages post-death that would be of interest, including mentions of bullying; friends of his making comments," Det Insp Holohan said.

The messages include inferences of harassment and bullying, the court heard.

Gardai have identified a number of examples of "reading material" they have concerns about.

Three conversations in particular "stand above" the others, the court heard.

Interviews have begun and a number of statements have been taken, though gardai were experiencing difficulties contacting many of those involved.

Gardai agreed to send a sample of complaints arising from the Facebook messages to the DPP to progress the case.

Det Insp Holohan said there was a legal difficulty because while there would be concerns about some messages, they might not be considered harassment in the legal sense.

"I'm conscious of bringing the correct closure to it," he said.

Ms Hughes said her son was bullied throughout his life for the colour of his skin and because he wore a hearing aid.

Speaking from the public gallery, she said she wanted gardai to bring charges in order to progress the case.

"This is why we're still in the situation we are in, nobody will follow through with charges," she said. "It's either bullying and harassment or it's not.

"He was a child, he can't be here to defend himself. I should be able to give a statement on his behalf in order to follow through with the charges.

"I'm looking for closure. I want to know what happened my son. I want justice for him, and if it stops it happening to anyone else. People can't get away with it."

Coroner Dr Brian Farrell agreed to adjourned the inquest until April 15 for further mention.

Compassion

In 2014, gardai said they had been liaising with the FBI on retrieving the messages from Facebook and, at that stage, claimed the company was not cooperating.

Following an inquest hearing in June of that year, Ms Hughes appealed to Facebook to "show some compassion" by releasing the messages to the coroner.

The 2014 hearing prompted Facebook to issue a statement saying it would "respond to valid legal requests for information".

The company spokesperson stated Facebook "encourages law enforcement agencies to follow our guidelines to help take their cases forward".

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