Parents of the teenager who committed suicide after she accessed suicidal content on her iPad in class are fighting to improve internet safety at schools.
Frankie Thomas was lost to suicide in 2018, according to Andy and Judy Thomas of Aldershot. Frankie Thomas, 15, was killed by suicide. She had read about it online hours before she died. It later emerged that Frankie had been reading similar material at school for at least nine years.
A coroner now supports their cause, and has issued a report requesting that national action be taken to correct outdated guidance and poor regulatory oversight by the Education Department.
Judy (63), a former music teacher and retired musician, stated that her beloved daughter was gone. Nothing can take her back. However, we do not want other families to suffer the same fate.
Frankie was five when Frankie was first introduced to primary school. She was funny and intelligent, but she struggled to cope with social situations.
Judy said, “Frankie is quite a character. Absolutely fearless. She enjoyed zipwires, and theme park rides. She was energetic and loved to climb, judo and box, as well as horse riding and windsurfing.
“It was an honor to be her parents, and I am so proud of her. We were so proud of her potential, and believed she was capable.
Judy Thomas (pictured below with Frankie at 6 years old) is campaigning to have stricter rules for internet safety in schools.
Frankie went to a traditional primary but, when it was time to go to secondary school, her parents discovered that Frankie struggled to cope with large spaces and noisy environments.
At first, she was sent to an independent small school. It closed later. At 12 years old, she was transferred to an educational facility for special needs.
Judy stated that Frankie liked many of the typical teenage activities. Green Day was her favourite band. As a bass guitarist, she was in a band. Her dream was to go to college for music.
She said, “But her disability made it extremely susceptible to suggestion. And she could also be rash or impulsive.
“Because she was not a normal teenager, we had to be very careful with some things including the internet. Andy and myself were seated beside her at the computer, which was password protected.
‘I advised her school that she needed to closely monitor our daughter’s internet activity and was assured by them.
Frankie was a lovable character: Frankie’s parents are fondly recollecting their daughter aged 12, pictured here
Frankie (7 years old) was diagnosed with Autism and was “extremely vulnerable” to suggestions.
Frankie took an unplanned break from her class on September 25, 2018. She did this when she felt like it was necessary. Frankie sat on a corridor, holding a school iPad. She was instructed to conduct research about the lesson topic.
Unsupervised for over 2 hours she instead access hardcore pornography on Wattpad and shared stories from Wattpad about self-harm and suicide.
Judy remembered: “That afternoon, Frankie arrived home in a happy mood. Before going to bed, she played in her garden swing.
“When I called her for dinner one hour later, she didn’t answer.”
The worried mother went upstairs and found her daughter.
It was horrible, she said. It was the day that our world came to an abrupt halt.
Judy dialed 999. A neighbor assisted her in administering CPR until the paramedics arrived. After several more attempts at resuscitation in the hospital, Frankie died.
Judy added: “Frankie hadn’t ever spoken to us about suicide. We are certain she didn’t have any materials encouraging suicide at home.
“But after her death, the school provided a list listing the sites she had visited on their school computer. We discovered that she was browsing X-rated content and had read stories about suicide and self-harm. She died hours later, at her home.
Over 200 mourners attended Frankie’s October 2018 cremation. After her favorite Star Wars music and Lucy, her Labrador retriever dog Lucy led the funeral procession to the chapel.
Judy, an IT specialist, and Andy discovered that there had to be an inquiry into the death of their mother.
To gather evidence, they turned to amateur detectives.
Judy stated that the school was committed to protecting its pupils online. The school had equipment that could monitor internet usage and alert children when they accessed indecent websites. However, what was most important, we found that the system had not been properly connected.
“This was because it did not raise alarms for pupils who accessed harmful websites.
Andy and Judy also examined the laptops at school.
Frankie as a baby, with Andy her father. Frankie as a 4-year-old.
It was revealed that Frankie had been browsing graphic websites discussing suicide and self-harm while at school for nine months.
The couple also found that their school iPads weren’t connected to the alert system even a year later after losing their little girl.
Frankie was finally inquest in October. Karen Henderson, the Surrey assistant coroner, told the couple that they did everything possible to safeguard their child throughout her life.
Ms Henderson claimed that Frankie was killed by Wattpad’s failures to remove inappropriate material and Wattpad’s lack of robustness in dealing with it.
Wattpad does not need to be blocked in schools. In fact, some Key Stage 4 students are encouraged to make use of it.
The coroner asked if the 600 moderators on the platform were enough to control its 1 billion content pieces.
Also, the coroner stated that there was “a lack in adequate direction” from Education Department to implement e-security for all schools. It seemed almost like the Wild West.
Recorded was a suicide verdict.
Judy stated that she was concerned about the safety of internet traffic at other schools in the United States.
Frankie was 7 years old when she and her dog Lucy were diagnosed with high functioning autistic disorder
In a letter to the Education Department, the coroner requested that action be taken to remedy ‘inadequate regulatory oversight’ and ‘outdated guidelines’ in relation to internet safety systems within all schools. The standard guidance included advice as to what sites should not be blocked.
Frankie’s Prevention of Future Deaths report has been submitted to the Education Minister. The minister has 56 days to reply with any suggested actions.
Judy shared the following: “The internet can prove to be extremely dangerous for individuals with special educational needs such as our daughter.
We believe that every child should feel safe online during school hours. School should have the legal obligation to examine online safety policies regularly and make sure that alarm equipment and monitoring devices are functioning properly. This is similar to what happens to fire alarms.
“Our Frankie didn’t feel safe in school. It was the reason she ended up losing her own life. Her life was marred by a terrible accident.
They hope that their daughter’s passing will serve as a wake-up call to schools and Education Department.
Judy stated, “Frankie was bigger than life and such an important part of our lives. We are still devastated by her loss and can’t even believe that she is gone.
Call the Samaritans at 116123 for confidential assistance or go to a branch of Samaritans. See www.samaritans.org for details