A review of messaging websites is needed

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Fourteen-year-old Harriet had what seemed to be an enviable life. She was a straight-A student at a Portsmouth school, a singer-songwriter and award-winning photographer. But she was driven to attempt to take her own life by bullying.

We reveal today how she took a cocktail of pills after ‘friends’ turned on her and posted a series of vile messages on Facebook.

Only a true friend, who was so concerned she told somebody, meant that Harriet, by now unconscious and fitting, could be admitted to hospital for treatment.

It’s a truly shocking story and a powerful reminder of how social messaging websites can be abused by bullies.

With so many children having access to technology these days, ‘cyberbullying’ is a growing problem. Anonymous slurs and gossip can be spread quickly to large audiences and victims are powerless.

This comes against a background of a rise in the more traditional forms of bullying at school, with exclusions as a result up in Portsmouth from 125 in 2008/9 to 146 in the last academic year.

We commend Harriet for her bravery in coming forward to tell her story, in the hope that other schoolchildren who are being bullied think twice about hurting themselves or keeping quiet.

As well as cyberbullying, she tells how she has first-hand experience of bullying within school in Portsmouth and claims that the figures for the city are ‘just the tip of the iceberg’.

It’s hard enough for schools to identify incidents of bullying, but trying to control what is said on the internet seems an almost impossible task.

Yet schools have a responsibility to educate children about the potential dangers and parents must do all they can to ensure they know what sites children are using and that they have some control over access.

We also think there needs to be a government-led review of social messaging sites and the way they are policed.

Everything possible must be done to protect children like Harriet from the viciousness of their peers.