Campaigners are calling for a ban on websites that promote suicide amid fears that Britain is in danger of embracing “a suicide cult“.
Experts warn that unless stringent controls are introduced, suicide pacts will became commonplace in Britain and it will be a matter of time before teenagers broadcast videos of their deaths on the internet.
Calls for the Government to create safeguards came after it emerged last week that two strangers who met online killed themselves in what is thought to be Britain’s first internet double suicide pact.
The bodies of Christopher Aston, 25, a student from Liverpool, and Maria Williams, 42, from Deptford, south London, were found in a car in Greenwich, south London, in February.
An inquest last week heard that Miss Williams, who was unemployed and estranged from her family, had met Mr Aston through a suicide website. They had never seen each other and spoken only a few times on the telephone before Mr Aston travelled to London to join Miss Williams in a suicide attempt.
They had both searched the internet for suicide methods. They decided to light a tray of barbecue charcoal in a car parked after closing hours in a suburban retail park. They died from carbon monoxide poisoning. They are the latest suicides to have been influenced by an ever-increasing number of websites dedicated to discussing, encouraging and planning suicides.
Tony Cox, of the charity Parents for Prevention of Young Suicide (Papyrus), fears that Britain is following countries such as Australia, Japan and America, where internet suicide pacts have rocketed in recent years.
He said: “If we don’t introduce regulations to stop these sites encouraging them, we are in serious danger of embracing a suicide cult.”
He believes that it is only a matter of time before British teenagers begin broadcasting videos of their deaths on the internet. “The danger of the internet is that there are no international boundaries and inevitably such things spread.”
He is referring to the American Brandon Vedas, 21, of Phoenix, Arizona, who in January 2003 became the first person to commit suicide “on the internet”. After logging onto a suicide website he invited his “virtual friends” to watch via a webcam link as he took his life. Earlier this year Carina Stephenson, 17, from Doncaster, south Yorkshire, hanged herself in woodland after printing out details of how to do so from a website.
Her mother Liz Taylor, 38, is forming a petition that she will deliver to Downing Street to urge Tony Blair to introduce safeguards to prevent other vulnerable people accessing such sites. She is campaigning for regulations such as those introduced in other countries. “There is a law in Japan where people can be prosecuted for discussing how to commit suicide over the internet and if there was something like that in this country, lives could be saved.”
She is joined in her campaign by Paul Kelly, who set up Hopeline UK to support those who know someone with suicidal tendencies after his son, Simon, 17, killed himself and published his suicide note on the internet.
The Home Office said it was working to increase awareness of the risks of such sites and to establish voluntary codes of conduct for internet services. That could include modifying search engines to produce information on responsible sites, such as the Samaritans, when requests about suicide were entered.
“The Government understands the concerns regarding these websites and the potential influence… on some people. It is a very complex issue and there is no quick or easy fix. But what they are doing is not necessarily illegal,” a spokesman said.