Suffolk: College bullies labelled autistic teenager ‘suicide boy’, inquest told

THE mother of an autistic teenager who killed himself in front of a train has told an inquest that bullies at a Suffolk college labelled him “suicide boy”.

Glenys Oates told a coroner of her desperate battle to get appropriate mental health intervention for her son Gareth who had already tried to kill himself once and had talked of suicide from the age of 11.

Gareth Oates, from Stowmarket, was 18 when he died after travelling to Marsden station in West Yorkshire on March 2 2010.

His mother told Bradford Coroner’s Court today about her struggles to get social and medical services in Suffolk to understand the seriousness of her son’s suicidal condition.

And she outlined her concerns about a gap in care services for autistic teenagers.

Mrs Oates told the court Gareth was routinely bullied and was even given the nickname “suicide boy” by some fellow pupils at West Suffolk College.

She said he was also bullied in public and she had later received an apology from Suffolk Police for not dealing with it more robustly.

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She said this was “bullying of a disabled person - deliberate targeting”.

Mrs Oates was close to tears as she described one occasion, in 2009, when taunts caused him to run out of college into a wood and phone her saying: “Mum, I’m going to kill myself”.

She said she raced to the college, in Bury St Edmunds, to find he had gone back, had been told off for running off and had left again.

She eventually found him at a train station.

Mrs Oates explained how a month after this she found a message on her phone from Gareth saying he was on top of cliffs at Sheringham, Norfolk, preparing to jump.

She said the message said: “This is the last time you’ll hear my voice.”

She said her son later said he did not go through with it because he was concerned there would be no-one to clean the trains at the railway where he volunteered.

But Mrs Oates said she believed Gareth tried to take his own life because of a meeting with a GP link-worker the day before which left him “deeply, deeply distressed”.

She told the coroner she believed he had taken literally a comment made to him by the link-worker that “he’d be better off dead than in college education”.

She said taking language literally was a characteristic of his his autism.

Mrs Oates described how she became more and more concerned about her son’s suicidal tendencies over the summer of 2009 but could not convince mental health services of the seriousness of his situation.

She said: “There could be no doubt this young man, my son, was suicidal.”

Mrs Oates said she eventually secured a course of cognitive behavioural therapy for Gareth but struggled to get further support and she became increasingly desperate.

She said he became obsessed with the 1985 action film The Runaway Train - which ends with one of the main characters killing himself in front of the engine.

Mrs Oates said she believed some of the details of her son’s death mirrored that in the film.