Sunday 24 March 2019

'Bullies ripped Nicole apart, we need new laws' - mum

Jackie Fox says it would be poignant to name the law after Coco, the family name for Nicole who died in Tallaght Hospital in January after years of online bullying. Photo: Gerry Mooney
Jackie Fox says it would be poignant to name the law after Coco, the family name for Nicole who died in Tallaght Hospital in January after years of online bullying. Photo: Gerry Mooney

A heartbroken mum whose child took her own life has lost hope of ever bringing her daughter's bullies to justice.

Nicole Fox Fenlon (21), from Clondalkin, died in Tallaght Hospital in January after being subjected to years of torment, both online and in person.

After her death, her family were determined to hold her bullies accountable.

However, despite finding evidence of sickening abuse on her phone, the family have learned that no law was broken.

Nicole's mum, Jackie Fox, told the Herald she is deeply hurt that her child's bullies will not face justice.

"They ripped her apart on Facebook," she said.

"Nicole was physically and mentally harassed by people who knew her. They were relentless.

"When she took her own life, I was adamant to find justice. Then I was told that cyberbullying in Ireland isn't a crime. I was sick to my stomach.

"Knowing that no one will be charged with Nicole's death has made everything so much worse.

"Losing her is one thing, but knowing there's nothing we can do about it crushes us just as much."


The trouble started when Nicole was 18 and started going to local clubs. Bullies became jealous of her friendships and set up horrific social media pages to "slag" her.

Ireland's harassment laws have not been updated since the advent of the text message, meaning threatening messages sent on social media are not considered crimes.

However, Ms Fox is determined to put an end to "this outdated" legislation and is campaigning to make online abuse against the law.

"This is the only way to save our children's lives," she said.

"There is a lot of evidence on Nicole's phone, which shows the extent of the bullying, but there's nothing the authorities can do because there was no offence committed according to Irish law.

"Cyberbullying is a serious problem in our country and if nothing is done then we're going to see more suicides.

"It may be too late to hold Nicole's bullies accountable, but hopefully with enough support we can introduce a new law that will save other children's lives."

The courageous mother is holding a demonstration outside Leinster House tomorrow at 3pm to call for the introduction of Coco's Law.

'Coco was the name we affectionately called Nicole, so I think naming the law after her will be a very poignant and affecting gesture," she said.

"These bullies are getting younger and so are the victims.

"There are people self-harming and killing themselves over online abuse, so the Government needs to do something about it right away.

"If someone is charged with cyberbullying, I think it will act as a major deterrent to other bullies."

Three months after Nicole's death, Ms Fox said things have not got any easier.

"We're just devastated," she said. "We cry every day and talk about Nicole all the time.

"I even go to bed early just to get rid of the day and dread waking up for another horrible day ahead.

"My 14-year-old son Lee has also been traumatised by Nicole's death.

"Lee and I were the ones who discovered her body. He's going to counselling and sees a psychiatrist in Tallaght Hospital, but he cries all the time and is left shattered."

Recently, a report from the Oireachtas Committee on Children and Youth Affairs urged the Government to introduce its proposed Digital Safety Commissioner without delay.

The committee said the current law should be changed to include "digital harassment" as part of the Non-Fatal Offences against the Person Act.

Last year, a Labour Bill was published to modernise Ireland's existing harassment legislation to safeguard people against all forms of harassment, including stalking, cyber- bullying and so-called "revenge porn".

Deputy Brendan Howlin said at the time: "The measures we are proposing seek to bring Ireland's regulations into the 21st century, by broadening the definition of communication to cover all electronic, written and spoken words.


"For example, this would mean a threatening 'iMessage' sent on an Apple device, or a WhatsApp or Facebook message, would be covered by law, which is currently not the case.

"Cyberbullying has become a phenomenon of the modern age, with parents expressing deep concern about the vulnerability of their children to online harassment. Our Bill moves to address this by covering against the persistent communication about someone, as well as directly to that person.

"Minority groupings are more likely to be targeted, not because of anything they do, but because of who they are, and this Bill would also protect against online racial abuse.

"Free speech should remain just that. But harassment, stalking and aggravated online bullying are not expressions of freedom - they are attacks on it."

If you or someone you know is affected by any of the topics in this story, call the Samaritans on 116 123 or the Pieta House Suicide and Self-Harm Crisis Centre on 1800 247 247.

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