‘I have no idea why’: Mum whose son took own life wants access to his browsing history

UK

A bereaved mother who has “absolutely no idea” why her son took his own life aged 14 is fighting social media companies to hand over his search history.

Jools Sweeney was found dead in April 2022. A coroner was unable to rule his death was a suicide as they were unable to prove he was in a “suicidal mood”, his mother Ellen Roome tells Sky News.

Ms Roome says he showed no signs of depression and police have ruled out any third-party involvement.

As a result, she says she has been left with “absolutely no idea why he isn’t here anymore”.

Having read about other teenagers taking their lives after viewing harmful content online, Ms Roome asked various social media companies for her son’s browsing history to shed light on why he died.

Ellen Roome and her son Jools Sweeney. Pic: Ellen Roome
Image:
Ellen Roome and her son Jools Sweeney (right). Pic: Ellen Roome

But she says: “Since my son’s death, I have not been able to access information to see what my son was looking at that could have contributed to him taking his own life.

“Parents should have the right to full access to their child’s social media accounts either whilst they are still alive (to protect them) or if they die as in my case.”

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She launched a petition to have the issue debated in parliament. But in light of the general election on 4 July, all parliamentary petitions will be automatically closed on 30 May.

This leaves her with just days to reach her 100,000-signature target.

She tells Sky News: “It’s very ambitious but I need 85,000 signatures to hit my target which might give me access to Jools’s information to find out why he died.”

Asked about the impact of her son’s unexpected death, she adds: “It’s impossibly hard, it’s horrific, it consumes me.

“I have to try the only thing we haven’t tried and that is social media.

“It might not be that. But I don’t see why social media companies wouldn’t let me see if they’ve got nothing to hide.”

Pic: Ellen Roome
Image:
Pic: Ellen Roome

Quarter of children addicted to devices

A recent House of Commons Education Committee report suggested there has been a 52% increase in children’s screen time between 2020 and 2022, with a quarter said to be using their devices in an addictive manner.

MPs on the committee said that while the Online Safety Act will play a role in keeping children safe from online harms, full protection will not come until the Act is fully implemented in 2026.

They suggest the next government should ban all under-16s from having phones.

Pic: Ellen Roome
Image:
The 14-year-old took his own life in 2022. Pic: Ellen Roome

Pic: Ellen Roome
Image:
Pic: Ellen Roome

Ms Roome said: “I think there’s a bigger issue than banning outright under-16s.

“Because they still have access to other devices. That is a bigger problem. We need to control what’s on those devices. It’s shocking about what a child can see these days.”

Online safety campaigner Ian Russell, whose 14-year-old daughter Molly took her own life after viewing harmful material, said such a ban would “cause more harm than good” and would “punish children for the failures of tech companies to protect them”.

“The quickest and most effective route to protect children’s online safety and wellbeing is to strengthen the Online Safety Act in the next parliament and we call on all parties to commit to this in their manifestos,” he said.


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Ms Roome adds: “Companies need to step up and stop waiting for the bill to make some changes.”

She describes her son as “entirely beautiful” and a “really polite young man”.

“I’m appealing to anybody out there to kindly share my petition. I want this debated in parliament. Parents need the right to be able to protect their children.”

Anyone feeling emotionally distressed or suicidal can call Samaritans for help on 116 123 or email jo@samaritans.org in the UK. In the US, call the Samaritans branch in your area or 1 (800) 273-TALK

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