The inquest touching on the death of fifteen year old Tallulah Wilson was heard by the Senior Coroner for Inner London North, Mary Hassell and a jury at St Pancras Coroner’s Court between 13 & 22 January 2014.
Tallulah died on 14 October 2012 at St Pancras Train Station after she was struck by a train. The jury returned a detailed narrative verdict and found she had taken her own life.
The Coroner gave an early indication that a Middleton style (i.e. enhanced) inquiry would be conducted. The jury was thus charged with investigating how and in what circumstances Tallulah came by her death. That meant the inquiry encompassed Tallulah’s experiences at her schools, her online life and relationship with tumblr and other social media sites; and her psychiatric care at the Tavistock, where she was an outpatient.
At the inquest, the Coroner identified Tallulah’s mother, Sarah Wilson, and the Tavistock & Portman NHS Foundation Trust as Interested Parties entitled to question the witnesses called.
Perhaps the most powerful evidence came from the girl, now aged 17, who had met Tallulah the day before her death, having only previously had contact with her online. Her evidence was clear that, although both she and Tallulah had run blogs which featured self-harm – they talked of nothing of the sort when they met. She now has no involvement with such blogs and websites and felt something should be done about them. She gave brave and moving evidence, after which the sense of reflection in court was palpable.
Modern inquests continue to be inquisitorial in nature but also look forward. Coroners are under a duty to make reports to prevent future deaths, where the inquest gives rise to a concern of a risk that will occur, or will continue to exist in the future and in the coroner’s opinion action should be taken to prevent the occurrence or its continuation and to eliminate or reduce the risk of death created by such circumstances.
One of the themes of Tallulah’s inquest was the extent to which psychological and psychiatric research is still developing and inevitably lags behind the reality of the role played by (in this case extreme forms of) social media in the lives of young people.
Leadership on this issue is lacking and needed at a national level. A coherent policy must be developed dealing with the existence of suicide and self-harm blogs and social media sites and the effects they have on their users.
It is hoped the Coroner’s Regulation 28 report on this issue will bring about change, by ensuring that lessons are learnt, and more importantly, that immediate action is taken in this fast developing area.