Whilst the UK government focuses on the war in Iraq, the war in British schools and playgrounds which leaves at least 16 children dead every year is ignored and dismissed. 16 child deaths a year at the hands of bullies is the equivalent of a Dunblane massacre in our schools each year. Despite repeated calls for action, the Department for Education and Skills (DfES) pays lip service and declines to keep statistics on this recognised but preventable death toll. Coroners often record verdicts of accidental death or misadventure because the circumstances were not sufficiently clear to meet the “beyond reasonable doubt” criteria for a suicide verdict. The true total of child deaths caused by bullying could therefore be as high as 80 a year.
Bullycide: death at playtime is a book by Neil Marr and Tim Field which exposes the death toll of child suicide caused by bullying at school. Every year, at least 16 families will experience the nightmare of coming home to find the lifeless body of their child. They will then discover that the bullying which drove their child to suicide had been going on for months and that the school knew all about it but had taken no effective action. The moment parents start their investigation they are likely to find themselves and their dead child vilified and blamed. [See FAQs and Myths explained]
Bullycide: death at playtime is a pioneering book that reveals the main reason why children are picked on: because they have a very low propensity to violence and a mature understanding of the need to resolve conflict with dialogue rather than violence. Bullies exploits these values – which society claims to cherish – and torment their prey for weeks, months, or years until the anger built up inside the target becomes uncontainable and explodes into violence. Because of their moral integrity and heightened emotional maturity, almost all targets of bullying will direct the anger onto themselves – which results in depression, self-harm or suicide. This heroic act is in stark contrast to the cowardly and thuggish nature of the bully who, when called to account, will aggressively but plausibly deny everything. The bully is often able to manipulate the perceptions of the responsible adults so that they also now victimise the target.
Every year in the UK…
over 19,000 children attempt suicide – one every half hour
there are over 2 million visits by children to GPs for emotional and psychological problems
suicide is now the Number One cause of death for 18-24-year-old males
From chapter 1: Strawberry Fields Forever
Steven Shepherd walked alone.
His longest lonely walk took him a lifetime. He never came home.
Steven lay down in the faraway strawberry fields where he had spent the only happy day of his eleven short years on earth … and he stayed in Strawberry Fields Forever.
John Lennon had written the song a few weeks before. Then Steven died and made the words mean more than the Beatle, writing of a Salvation Army home for lost boys a few miles from the scene of Steven’s death, could ever have imagined.
Steven willed himself to death and became Britain’s first recorded bullycide.
Imagine that cruel January night in 1967 with rain whipping. He’d tossed away his sodden shoes. The chill nibbled like rats. And he was all but blind without the cheap wire-rimmed National Health specs he had discarded on his ten-mile trek. He’d made sure he would see no more terrible tomorrows.
You can download all of Chapter 1 for free from Electric eBook Publishing.
From chapter 2: Little flowers
I shall remember forever and will never forget.
Monday: my money was taken.
Tuesday: names called.
Wednesday: my uniform torn.
Thursday: my body pouring with blood.
Friday: it’s ended.
The final diary pages of 13-year-old Vijay Singh. He was found hanging from the banister rail at his home on Sunday.
The local … Council who looked into each of her family’s bullying complaints said: “These were concerns the school took very seriously and dealt with promptly. In each case the concerns were fully investigated and dealt with and the Council’s anti-bullying policy was followed to the letter. Senior staff dealt with the incidents involved and they were properly logged. There was nothing to raise any serious concerns.”
When these words were spoken, Marie [Bentham] was already dead.
But the complaints had been properly logged.
A child care worker told us afterwards: “The main environment in which the bullies act is one of secrecy. Investigations of complaints seldom do any good. There should be no complaints. Teachers should be educated to see problems before they arise and nip them in the bud.”
From chapter 10: A call away
Even when a bullycide attempt is unsuccessful, lives can be wrecked. Kidscape’s Long-term Effects of Bullying study published in Bully Free in 1999 reads:
“Forty-six percent of the respondents (bully victims involved in the survey) had contemplated suicide. Twenty percent attempted suicide, some more than once.
The Kidscape report concludes: “This is the first time adults have been questioned about their experiences of being bullied as children and how this might have affected their lives. The oldest respondent was 81 but, as with the rest, time had not dimmed the memories.
“Contrary to popular opinion, being bullied at school does not help children to cope better with adult life. In fact it has the opposite effect. Adults who were bullied as children tend to have problems with self-esteem, feelings of anger and bitterness, suicidal thoughts and attempts, and difficulty relating to people.
“The lessons for us today are clear: if we allow bullying to go on, we are condemning another generation.
“It should be borne in mind that the results of the survey reveal only the tip of the iceberg. Many have suffered worse treatment than those who took part … they have succeeded in their suicide attempts.”
Just in case anyone should still believe the myth that bullies are tough and successful, former victims who know of the fate of their tormentors report that the bullies have led lives full of failure and lacking in fulfilment, often continuing to damage the lives of those with whom they come into contact.
From chapter 14: Seconds out
Record-setting round-the-world balloonist Brian Jones recalls how in his teens having been driven to attempt suicide tried because of bullying at school, the moment when he finally overcame the feelings of shame and embarrassment:
“I’m in my fifties now and remember that what’s so important is the destruction of self-esteem when you’re young and the terrible, unwarranted embarrassment. I still don’t know why I became a target or why the bully became a bully.”
This wasn’t at the front of Brian’s mind as one half of the first duo to circumnavigate the world. It’s when he touched down that he realised something had happened that had changed his life.
“The spark, I think, was over North Africa, looking down on a landscape which was unbelievably beautiful and feeling ourselves the luckiest, most privileged men in the history of the world, then realising that there were kids down there starving to death and grown-ups trying to kill each other and realising what a crazy world it really is.”
From chapter 17: The happiest days of your life
Never again should anyone be in doubt about how it feels to be the target of bullying.
To wake up each day knowing that you have to go to school, knowing there’s no way of avoiding it, knowing that the moment you set out for school the bullies are there, waiting for you to arrive, waiting to call you names, to tease you, torment you, humiliate and mock you, embarrass you in front of friends, push you, punch you, slap you, pinch you, spit on you, kick you, and … you daren’t think about the rest, or the possible consequences.
Don’t the bullies behave like perfect darlings whenever a teacher approaches? Aren’t they polite and deferential, until the teacher is out of sight, then the kicking, punching, spitting, tormenting starts over, school books are damaged (how am I going to explain that again?), homework defaced (ditto), projects sabotaged, food spoilt, possessions pilfered, personal items desecrated, clothes ripped, school uniform torn, dinner money stolen, pocket money extorted. Just another normal day. Like yesterday. And the day before. Like tomorrow. And the day after that.
From chapter 18: End of term report
Each bullycide is an unpalatable fact that a child has died as a result of the deliberate actions of another in an environment where the responsible adults have failed to provide a mechanism for reporting, intervening, and dealing with physical and psychological violence. The excuses of “we didn’t know” or “we didn’t understand” are no longer valid.
Bullycide: death at playtime is an answer to all those cries for help, recorded or otherwise. We heard Marie Bentham, our youngest case at only 8 years old. We heard Denise Baillie, at four weeks the shortest case. We’ve described the sustained campaigns mounted against Kelly Yeomans and Katherine Jane Morrison, and we’ve detailed the final unbearable moments of Steven Shepherd in the strawberry fields at Newburgh and Lucy Forrester at Congleton railway station.
At least sixteen families will lose a child to bullycide this year. Schools, and especially those with managerial responsibility for education, must do better.
We must all do better.