City schoolgirl turns tables on bullies in video

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WHEN Chloe Meredith posted a heart-wrenching video about her cyber-bullying plight on Facebook, little could she have expected what a chord it would strike with viewers.

In a case of the 12-year-old turning social media back on her tormentors, Chloe’s poignant five-minute appeal shows her simply holding up A4 sheets expressing how she feels after months of cruel abuse at the Capital’s Forrester High.

Chloe Meredith has hit back at cyber-bullies. Picture: Toby Williams

Chloe Meredith has hit back at cyber-bullies. Picture: Toby Williams

In simple, child-like statements, she conveys the horror and cruelty thousands in a similar position face, according to campaigners from the charity BeatBullying.

And – in what could become a landmark case – Chloe’s stand has sparked renewed calls for coordinated action by schools, internet service providers, lawmakers and wider society to tackle the rapid spread of cyber-bullying.

S1 pupil Chloe said online abuse suffered over the past school year made her feel she was “worthless” and drove her to cut herself – keeping the self-harm from her parents by wearing baggy cardigans.

Parents bus driver Ronnie Meredith, 38, and nurse Kirsty Lambert, 31, revealed she had endured a relentless stream of “anonymous and vile” messages about her looks, personal hygiene and behaviour through social networking sites Ask FM and Facebook, as well as Blackberry Messenger.

The couple, from the Calders in west Edinburgh, were distraught when they discovered Chloe had posted an online video about her abuse last week – after spending months in the dark over the extent of her self-harm and suffering.

They say the school has “let Chloe down” and claim her guidance teacher was not fully aware of the bullying when they called about the video – even though a colleague had been contacted as soon as earlier evidence was uncovered in March.

And they’ve slammed requests from the school to take the video down, saying they back Chloe’s stand. The school, however, has insisted it fears the film could lead to further abuse and deny its view is about seeking to negate adverse publicity.

Speaking to the Evening News at her family home, Chloe said: “I felt scared and depressed. The bullying started when I went into high school. It was in the school and playground. It’s online now.

“I made the video because I wanted to let people know how I was feeling. I want my school to get this sorted. I want them to be doing more.”

Her parents revealed they first noticed a change in their previously bubbly and upbeat daughter at Christmas, but could not get her to open up.

They said Chloe was a confident and “happy-go-lucky” child when she joined Forrester High, and liked nothing better than to join pals at Wester Hailes Education Centre for majorettes training.

“Her attitude changed a lot. She had mood swings. Some days she didn’t want to go to school,” said Ronnie.

Although the suspicion lingered that something was seriously wrong, Ronnie and Kirsty said they did not obtain hard evidence of their daughter’s bullying hell until March.

Kirsty said: “The mother of one of her friends found her phone and found messages about her self-harming, that this was the worst period of her life so far – that she just felt worthless and did not want to carry on.”

The couple then discovered the comments about Chloe that bullies had been posting to Facebook and Ask FM on a daily basis.

“People were saying that she deserved all the abuse,” said Ronnie. “She was getting called ‘slut’, ‘slag’ – and there was abuse over the way she looks. They were calling her a dirty f***ing slag who goes out with a beasty f*** – because she had a male friend who was a year older than she was.

“They were saying she smells, that she has BO. Another said, ‘why so ugly, slag?’”

Kirsty said: “She was just trying to get on with it herself. She was doing her best to ignore what they were saying.”

The couple said they were assured by one guidance teacher that the principal perpetrators would be “spoken to” and, for a while, the trouble seemed to die down.

But the family’s agony was only beginning.

Ronnie said: “Last week we found out the bullying was happening again – and I noticed scratches on Chloe’s arms. She said she had done it in the skate park and I said, ‘I don’t believe you’. And then she just broke down.”

Meanwhile, Kirsty found a hair clip under Chloe’s pillow while cleaning her room which she believes was used to carry out the self-harm.

Then, only days later, Chloe posted her devastating Facebook video. Already shared on Facebook more than 200 times, it is a powerful and stark portrait of what abuse can do to a young mind.

In the most harrowing frame she holds up a sign saying: “Please make the pain stop! Please . . .”

Kirsty and Ronnie, who turned in desperation to their daughter’s school for help, said the final straw was discovering the regular guidance teacher seemed not to have been made aware the bullying was happening.

“We were both really angry and frustrated that for something as important as that, there was no communication,” said Kirsty. “I felt that they had let Chloe down. I just feel that now there’s a video put out there, they are more concerned about that.

“They are not prepared to take the children in who are doing this. The school are saying they do not have the power or the authority to bring the parents in because they cannot prove it.”

Ronnie said: “I am raging over this – we just felt that we were fobbed off. All they are saying is that she should block the people on social media.

“These are supposed to be the happiest days of Chloe’s life.”

It is understood advice was offered at school about online defence and contacting the police over social media abuse but that this was not acted on.

Education bosses said all incidents of online and cyber-bullying were taken “extremely seriously”.

A city council spokesman said: “Guidance teachers regularly discuss the issue with pupils and internet safety courses are run in schools to teach children about being safe online. Pupils are advised to talk to staff or a responsible adult if they have concerns about online abuse. We have met with Chloe’s family and given them advice and support.

“The pupils involved have been spoken to by the school about their actions and the school’s police officer has also talked to them to reinforce the dangers and consequences of online bullying. We will be doing everything we can to ensure Chloe has the support she needs.”

Stop bullying at source

ANTHONY Smythe, director of UK bullying prevention charity BeatBullying, said: “Young victims of cyber-bullying can feel they have no escape from relentless abuse. It is impossible to underestimate how destructive this can be.

“It is worrying that something that has such damaging effects can be so easily committed. The rise of technology has removed some of the barriers that acted as deterrents to bullying, and it is all too easy for young people to cyber-bully when they feel they are anonymous and at a distance from seeing the repercussions of their actions. Many of those who cyber-bully do not realise that they may be driving their victim to depression and anxiety.

“All schools need to develop and implement an anti-bullying strategy that includes practical measures. We also encourage young people themselves to take a stand against bullying, whether that’s through organised campaigns or helping someone at school who is being bullied.”

Godzik backs staff on bullying

COUNCILLOR Paul Godzik, the Capital’s education leader, said school staff were working hard to tackle the growing scourge of cyber-bullying: “A concerted effort is taking place across Edinburgh schools to educate our pupils about what is acceptable online behaviour. All schools have the ‘Keeping Myself eSafe’ materials which deal specifically with online bullying and our secondary schools cover all aspects of bullying in their Personal, Social and Education programme.

“All staff receive mandatory child protection training every three years, which includes internet safety, and we carry out partnership working with the UK Safer Internet Centre.

“Our Community Police Officers also have a key role in talking to young people about cyber-bullying.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “We are developing guidance on safe and responsible use of personal mobile technology, which will look specifically at social media and internet safety. We will also continue to support the national anti-bullying service, Respectme, Childline and others.”

Stats tell horrifying tale

• ONE in three young people have been victims of cyber-bullying

• 20 per cent of children and young people said that fear of cyber-bullies made them reluctant to go to school

• 14 per cent of young people are living in fear for their safety

• Five per cent resorted to self-harm and three per cent reported an attempt of suicide as a direct result of cyber-bullying

• 45 per cent of young people stated that they felt that websites such as Facebook and MSN did not do enough to protect them from virtual violence