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TikTok was 'serious factor' in son's death on Isle of Sheppey, says mum

The mother of a teenager who died after falling from a railway bridge believes TikTok was a 'serious factor' in her son's death and has called for it to be an 'interested party' in his inquest.
Ellis Murphy-Richards, 15, died after the fall at West Minster, Sheppey, on September 30, a month before his 16th birthday.

Ellis Murphy-Richards
Ellis Murphy-Richards

The tragedy happened as a train carrying Sheppey school children from Sittingbourne back to Sheerness was passing. Power to the track had to be cut for emergency services. Passengers were kept on board the carriages for two hours until the train could be moved.

A pre-inquest review at Maidstone's Archbishop Palace heard how Ellis, who was a former pupil at Highsted Grammar in Sittingbourne and Oasis Academy on Sheppey, had been involved in a disagreement with staff at a pre-booked session with the Children and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS) at Seahells in Sheerness about going to A&E.

It started after his grandmother said she found him in distress the night before. The teenager walked out of the session after refusing to go to hospital.

During the hearing, coroner Sonia Hayes declined a request to make the video sharing social media app TikTok an interested party for the full inquest. An interested person - or party in this case - is someone who has the right to participate in proceedings because of their relationship to the deceased, their involvement in the circumstances of their death or at the discretion of the coroner.

Ellis' mum Natasha Murphy of Epps Road, Sittingbourne, asked for the company to be involved as she believed it was a serious factor in suicidal thoughts her son held "because of its algorithm and content" which may have led to his death.

Ellis and his mum Natasha Murphy
Ellis and his mum Natasha Murphy

Speaking after the hearing she revealed she had been given permission by Swale council to fix a plaque in Ellis's memory to the bridge.

She added: "I have also asked Network Rail for a cage above the bridge for safety of others."

The pre-inquest review heard how Ellis, who was living with his nan in Faversham at the time, had a history of mental health problems.

Following his death, the teenager's mum paid tribute to her son.

She said: "We are all devastated. Ellis was very articulate and musical. He had learned to play the nose-flute, had taken violin lessons and had his own guitar. He had learned British Sign Language so he could sign along to pop songs.'

Natasha, 33, revealed a mystery person tried to talk her son down from the bridge before he died and thanked them for their efforts.

Train death: tributes to Ellis Murphy-Richards, 15, who died after falling from a railway bridge at West Minster
Train death: tributes to Ellis Murphy-Richards, 15, who died after falling from a railway bridge at West Minster

Flowers and a 16th birthday balloon were left at the footbridge alongside a penned tribute from his mother, which said: "I know how much you wanted to celebrate this birthday.

"Not how it was supposed to be. Maybe I didn't say it enough but I was always proud of you. I just wanted you to be happy. Whichever path you took I would always have been there for you."

His heartbroken grandparents wrote: "Cannot believe we will never again see your handsome face and hear your beautiful laughter.

"Never again can we hold you close or see your smile. Our hearts are forever broken but no longer will you feel pain. Soar high with the angels."

Ria Messenger, a support worker at the Faversham Youth Centre where Ellis was a member, said: "He was funny, danced quite a lot and sang very well. He was active on TikTok and liked to tell everybody.

"He had a good group of friends who always looked out for him. Everyone was absolutely devastated - it came out of nowhere. We wish that we could have done more to support him but with mental health it's such a difficult subject."

A two-day inquest is scheduled for May 24 and 25.

A spokesman for TikTok added: "We are deeply saddened to learn of this tragedy and our sympathies go out to Ellis' family.

"If anyone in our community is struggling with thoughts of suicide or concerned about someone who is, we encourage them to seek support.

"We do this by providing access to helplines directly in-app and on our Safety Centre and re-direct searches for potentially harmful content of this nature to the relevant support resources, including the Samaritans in the UK."

For confidential support on an emotional issue, call Samaritans on 116123 at any time.

If you want to talk to someone confidentially, click here.

For more information on how we can report on inquests, click here.

Read more: All the latest news from Sheppey

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