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Saturday 10 December 2016

Ronan Hughes: Teen given 48 hours to pay £3k or private images would be sent to friends

* Heartbroken parents say their son would still be alive if police had acted quicker
* 'If those images hadn't been posted on Friday morning, I know that Ronan would still be sitting here'

Ronan Hughes
Ronan Hughes
Pacemaker Press 9/6/2015 Family and Friend during the funeral of 17 year old Ronan Hughes at St Patrick's Church in Clonoe Co Tyrone , The schoolboy understood to have taken his own life after being tricked into posting images online. Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker

The heartbroken parents of a schoolboy who took his own life after being blackmailed on social media have claimed the teen's death could have been prevented.

The grieving couple have broken their silence to help others in a bid to prevent another family going through what they have went through.

In an interview with the Irish News Ronan Hughes' father Gerard describes the discovery of the 17-year-old's body as the "worst experience of his life".

The teenager from just outside Coalisland, Co Tyrone died on Friday June 5 in a tragedy that has brought calls for greater awareness of the dangers being posed by the worldwide web.

His parents speaking out for the first time told how the St Joseph's Grammar school pupil became a victim of a blackmail plot over images he posted on a social media site after receiving photographs from a girl.

The PSNI have since traced the site to Nigeria and closed it down within two days.

His mother, Theresa Hughes said: "We decided to speak out as this is something that could have been prevented. A child with mental illness maybe can't be stopped from taking their own life. But to think that Ronan was living life to the full and then all of a sudden something like this can pop-up and take his life...that's why we had to act.

"We want there to be changes so if a child out there is being bullied online they can go to the police or other authorities with their concerns. We don't want another family to go through what we've gone through."

Just a week before his death Ronan had enjoyed what he called "the best night of his life by far" watching rock band the Foo Fighters at Slane Castle.

Pacemaker Ronan Hughes __4.jpg  

The teenager's parents believe he would still be alive if the PSNI had handled the case quicker.

Ronan confided in his parents three days before his death about a fake Facebook account threatening to send images to his online friends unless he paid more than £3,000 within 48 hours.

His mother Theresa Hughes said: "He came to me and said I'm in trouble here.

"He gave me his phone. They were looking more than £3,000 for an image he had posted and told him they were going to show it to all his friends. They had sent him a list of all his Facebook friends. He texted them back to say, 'but I'm only 17'."

Mr Hughes immediately took Ronan to Dungannon police station where the gates were closed and they were told only one police officer was on duty.

As they waited Mr Hughes recalls seeing threatening messages coming through to Ronan's phone telling him he had less than 47 hours to pay them and that "time was ticking".

Mr Hughes said: "A policeman said to us there was very little they could do as he was there on his own that night. He scribbled down a few notes and told us to ignore the blackmail. He told us to come back the next morning.

"I knew Ronan was looking for help and I told him that all my son wanted is for these images not to be posted. He told us that he couldn't guarantee that. For Ronan, it was totally dismissive.

"If the police had given Ronan reassurance and said 'We'll contact IT experts, we'll close this down, we'll stop that - Ronan would still be here today, that's why he came to us, he wanted help."

Mr Hughes' concerns about his son grew as the schoolboy turned to his father in the car and said, "I think I've just committed social suicide, dad."

They returned to the police station the following morning where they spent several hours. They were told again to ignore the blackmail and Ronan's phone was taken by police. They waited over the next two days to hear from the police but they didn't hear anything.

Mr Hughes aid: "We were very disappointed but we sat Ronan down and told him that if the images were published it would blow over in a couple of weeks and we'd deal with it. We told him it wasn't the end of the world.

"I had a chat with him on the Thursday night. I asked him if he was okay about the fact the images might appear the next morning and he replied. 'whatever'."

The next morning a friend contacted the teen to say she had received a link containing private images but she had not opened them.

He telephoned his mum to tell her and she told him "not to worry" before phoning her husband who left work early as he had a "bad feeling."

When he returned home he found a pile of notes sitting and on one Ronan had written "back field".

"I knew instantly where he was. That was the worst experience of my life, gong round that corner. I can't get it out of my head at all.

"If those images hadn't been posted on Friday morning, I know that Ronan would still be sitting here."

The couple have said they have been "overwhelmed" by the support they have received in the 10 days since Ronan's death.

They wish now to raise awareness of how "naive" parents can be in relation to social media.

Mr Hughes said: "There's no point in a parent taking a phone off a child when they don't know what they're doing themselves or how to access the technology themselves.

"My13-year-old knows more than I do and it's not right. We just don't want this tragedy to happen to anyone else."

In a statement issued to the Irish News the PSNI they planned to meet with the Hughes family in the coming days.

The Samaritans provides a support service for those who need to talk to someone. It can be contacted through Samaritans.org or on 08457 90 90 90, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year

How to stay safe online

• Don’t share personal information or images with people you don’t know;

• Don’t accept friend requests with someone you don’t know;

• Set your privacy settings on all devices;

• Don’t post anything online that you are not happy to be shared;

• If someone has made you feel uncomfortable or you have had disturbing interaction online, tell someone you trust.

Additional reporting by PA

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