No charges in chatroom suicide, UK authorities say

by Paul Jay, CBC News Online

British prosecutors said they would not press charges against chatroom users who watched 42-year-old Kevin Whitrick apparently commit suicide in March, the BBC reported Monday.

Whitrick, of Wellington, Shropshire, announced in March he would commit suicide and then broadcast his own death by hanging.

Some users on the chatroom tried to stop the father of two and one called for the police but others reportedly egged him on, according to the Times online.

The Crown Prosecution Service said the comments made on the chatroom did not amount to a criminal offence. As the BBC reports:

A spokesman said in a statement: "This is a tragic case which resulted in the untimely death of Kevin Whitrick. We examined all the evidence passed to us by the police and have concluded that none of the comments made in the chatroom amounted to a criminal offence. As a result, there is insufficient evidence to prosecute any person for any criminal offence arising out of Mr. Whitrick's death."

The incident is chillingly similar to the 2003 suicide of Brandon Vedas, 21, from Phoenix, Arizona, who died of an overdose of alcohol and prescription medication while on a chatroom where some members appeared to be encouraging him, while others tried to make him stop.

The Canadian Safety Council has a section on their website on "the bystander effect," the phenonenon whereby indecision or indifference causes members of a group of people to fail to act where they might have otherwise intervened. Here's the link, including some tips on calling 9-1-1.