Friday, January 25, 2008

Dark Deaths Engulf Wales

The Welsh countryside is being visited by dampness, darkness, and death. The spirit and happiness of youthful hope is being snuffed out.

When I wrote my book Suicide Clusters for Faber and Faber (Boston and London) in 1987, few people accepted the reality that suicides clustered. By the time The Copycat Effect came out in 2004, it was taken for granted that suicide clusters existed and do happen.

This week the media began to report on a highly active cluster happening in Wales, in and around Bridgend, a former coal mining community of 40,000, and today the site of a well-known prison.

The death toll went to seven with the latest suicide occurring this Wednesday, when Natasha Randall died by hanging.

In addition to Randall, six men between the ages of 17 and 27 have also been found dead in the area. Authorities have ruled three of the cases to be suicides; the others are under investigation, but suicide is suspected. [See the update at the end, regarding a possible new count of 13 deaths by suicide.]

Let me be clear. From reading about how they all have died, I would say that all seven are suicidal deaths.

Read for yourself, how these associates and friends killed themselves:

Dale Crole, 18, hanged himself at the Coney Beach funfair at Porthcawl, near Bridgend, January 2007;

David Dilling, 19, a former classmate of Dale from Pyle, near Bridgend, hanged himself, February 2007;

Thomas Davies, 20, who had been at school with both Dale and David, found hanged from a tree in David’s home village two days before his funeral, February 2007;

Zachery Barnes, 17, of Wildmill, Bridgend, a friend of Thomas’s family, hanged with washing line, August 2007;

Liam Clarke, 20, a friend of Dale, found hanged in a park in Bridgend, December 2007;

Gareth Morgan, 27, who knew Liam, found hanged in his bedroom, January 2008; and

Natasha Randall, 17, of Blaengarw, Bridgend, a close friend of Liam, hanged herself in her bedroom, January 2008.

The common method hanging unites these deaths in the cluster.

Near Bridgend, from my research, clustering has happened before. In 2003, the Bridgend Samaritans group wanted to put signs at a south Wales beauty spot to persuade suicidal people to call them. Southerndown Cliffs near Ogmore in the Vale of Glamorgan had become a notorious suicide spot, with nine deaths since December 2000. That translates into a cluster of nine jumping deaths between December of 2000 and May 2003 ~ nine deaths in 18 months.

In 2006, the media quoted Philip Walters, the coroner, as saying he was "desperately concerned" about the number of young men dying by suicide in his area (Bridgend, Rhondda Cynon Taf and Merthyr Tydfil). Over an 11-month period in 2006, he said he dealt with nearly one case of suicide per week for men under 30. (If he actually said that, the new 2007-2008 cluster in Bridgend should be no surprise to him.)

In the midst of the 2006 events, a widely reported story was of a Swansea Institute computer student Geraint Banks-Wilkinson, 20, from Nantymoel, who died by hanging on January 13, 2006. His death seemed directly related to his worries about an overdraft at his bank, the Bridgend branch of HSBC. Mr. Banks-Wilkinson's father, Geoff, a prison officer, said of the bank: "The way they treated him was appalling."

Bridgend appears to be one of those communities that has a historical predisposition to clustering and contagion, where suicide is seen as an option for "coping" among vulnerable and hopeless youth.

Now the deaths in Bridgend are front-page news stories worldwide and people are looking to blame someone or something.
"People are saying it might be some sort of cult, but we don't know," said Luke Wills, 25. "There is something amiss, but we don't know what."

Even speculation about a "pact" has been floated about.

"It's nothing like that. What people are saying is not true," said Alicia Johns, a friend of 17-year-old Natasha Randall, who was found dead last week.

"People get down and they do it," she added, saying the young people acted on their own and were not influenced by others. "It's all from the same group, I knew these people."

But this suicide cluster is probably merely being pushed along by the copycat effect, in which the model for suicide among impulsive, action-driven, forlorn youth has now been placed in front of them in an area that has turned grim in a downward economy reinforced in the nearly perpetual damp mists that shroud Bridgend in the long winter months. The darkness of despair can run deep. One need not blame cults, pacts, video games, the internet, or even the media. The gloom is like the fog surrounding one at night in Bridgend, and for many, the modeling of past suicides shout out from those Welsh nights.

Remember, if you live in Wales, don't forget to keep talking to each other and help each other through these dark times.

~ UK Samaritans: 08457 90 90 90 and ~

Update: Senior detectives investigating a spate of young suicides in south Wales over the past year are to re-examine the files of 13 deaths in the area - including four cases that are officially closed. South Wales police issued a statement saying: "We will be reviewing a number of cases of sudden deaths in the Bridgend area as part of the investigation process. At this stage, we can't confirm the number or further detail."

According to other sources, among the cases are five involving people aged between 21 and 27, three 20-year-olds, two 19-year-olds, an 18-year-old and two 17-year-olds. All are apparently unexplained and were within the space of a few miles.

Bridgend past

Bridgend, Wales, in calmer days.


Ben Fairhall said...

I had a feeling you'd be on to this story, Loren.

You will know by now that the death toll appears to have risen, in the last few days, to 13.

A 'historical predisposition' to suicide clustering... Would you care to elaborate on that, at any point?

All the best,

Anonymous said...

This was on the BBC news again tonight as deaths #15 and #16 were added to the list - the first tried to hang himself, his cousin heard and hung themselves and then the first person passed away in hospital.

The whole piece was largely filled with experts talking about how they aren't connected and it is just one of those "blips" that will regress back to the norm over time.

This does seem increasingly strained - I suppose the last thing they want is some kind of scare which could make things get out of hand. However, headlines like this say it all:

* New Bridgend suicides 'not part of cult'
* Two More Hangings Rock Death-Cult Town
* Death Cults Claim Three More Lives
* Two cousins from 'suicide town' hang themselves within hours as death toll rises

My concern would be that, with the officials denying links, it builds its own momentum and reaches some kind of critical mass where such a "death cult" does emerge spontaneously (like Minerva springing from the head of Jove).

There are a lot of unhappy young people around (and there is a lot of talk in the UK about NEETs, I'd imagine South Wales being a bad area for this given the loss of the coal mining and manufacturing industries) but most of them grow out of it. Lower the barrier to ending it all even slightly and the consequences could be terrible.

Note the background, as recently reported: There has been a nationwide drop in suicide rates, partly down to the rise in catalytic converters as well as more widespread use of anti-depressants (they stopped selling paracetamol in 100s 20-25 years ago, which helped cut suicide rates back then) but it has seen a rise in hangings, as we don't have such easy access to guns and other "effective" means of suicide.

Mafiawl said...

Firstly may I say how incredibly sad it is that so many young people have died. It is truly heartbreaking.

Does anybody know how many of these young people died alone and away from home? I think it would be incorrect to link them all but it may be correct to link many of them. I am not an expert in psychology but something here does not add up and I think that it would be wise to keep an open mind as to how some of these young people died. I am sure the police must be thinking the same thing and if they are not then they should be in my opinion. A cluster created by hysteria would be very convenient for a murderer. I may be completely wrong but I do hope this is one area that is being investigated.

Anonymous said...

well, I dunno from were i can start but this is really really hurtin u know wut i mean, those youngs boys/girls were lovely and i knew one of them "Jenna Parry" she was so so nice and cool,i'm missing her smile and i remember when she said that she got problems with this life, and she dont wanna do something bad to herself cos she liked her 2 brothers she was too attached to them.... that hurts me enough... i left wales since 3 months ago i'm livin in algeria now well i cant continue my eyes are full of tears.. take care, i was so so surprised when i read that she's dead :( :( :( R.I.P . This is my email

Anonymous said...

Truely sad that all these beautiful young people are passing on this way. one thing I keep thinking; wht would they have been if they never died, who would they have been? However, I think what wales needs most is prayers. We all need to continually pray for her. We know it has not always been like this. There was Revival in wales a few years back and thing worked diffrent. I think that same revival and awakeing is what we need most.