I'LL SUFFER NO LONGER; Her friend killed Ashley is going herself after years of torment - now to fight back for all bullied children.
THESE should be the happiest days of Ashley Evans' life. But the devastating effect of bullying has turned her teenage years to misery.
Later this month, children across Scotland will return to the classroom after the summer break.
Many will be looking forward to seeing their friends again and embarking on a new term.
But for Ashley, 15, the new school year signals the start of yet another crushing round of mental and psychological torture at the hands of bullies.
Ashley was a close friend of Nicola Raphael, the 15-year-old who killed herself in June this year.
Nicola was bullied because she wore black Gothic-style clothing and dark make-up.
The tormented teenager was found unconscious on her bed at her Kirkintilloch home after she had crept downstairs in the night to take her mother's painkillers.
She was rushed to hospital, but died after spending a night on a life-support machine.
Like Nicola, Ashley has suffered years of abuse and bullying.
She admits she has learned very little at school because of the constant stress the teasing has caused. And for years she has gone to bed on a Sunday night full of dread and apprehension.
Although Ashley has been attacked by school pupils and has had objects thrown at her, the bullying is mostly verbal. But it is also relentless.
She has been tormented by her fellow pupils about everything from the colour of her vivid red hair to her weight.
At one point, the bullying got so bad that Ashley refused to go to school for two weeks.
In short, her young life has been made a misery.
SHE says: "I've been bullied for as long as I remember. For the first few years, it was just name-calling. I got called 'anorexic' because I'm slim and 'ginger freak' because of my red hair.
"Then they started saying they were going to murder me. Nobody was prepared to help me. A lot of my friends deserted me because they were scared they were going to get bullied, too, and I was left feeling very alone.
"It all came to a head last year when they started to threaten to 'kick my head in' on my way home.
"I just couldn't take any more. I felt there was no point in going to school because nobody was there to help me.
"My mum complained to the police, but that only made matters worse. I started getting even more abuse.
"And when I mentioned what had been happening at school, teachers said that it was just 'tittle-tattle' and I should expect that sort of thing.
"So in the end, I stopped reporting it because I felt no-one wanted to deal with the problem."
She adds: "Bullying ruins people's lives. I've seen that for myself. Why can't people just live and let live?"
Thousands of youngsters are bullied in Britain. In a 12-month period, ChildLine received more than 22,000 calls from bullied children.
And a recent study by education psychologist Sonia Sharp showed that one child in every two is bullied.
Ashley will turn 16 next week. And she will have just one wish when she blows out the candles on her birthday cake - that bullying will stop.
She believes the bullies are oblivious to the effect they have had on her.
But the brave youngster is determined not to suffer in silence forever.
She has been learning how to defend herself and now takes martial arts classes six times a week.
She says: "I tried to do something about the bullying from day one. After school, I approached some of the girls involved and asked them why they were doing this to me.
"They denied they had been doing anything because apparently they 'liked' me.
"The bullying died down for a while and for a short time I started to feel I could get my life back on track. But the bullying soon started again.
"My friends and I used to sit on a school bench at break times. Then another crowd came along and thought it would be funny to throw crisps over me and my friends.
"That went on for months - we had crisps, crisp packets and any rubbish they could get their hands on thrown at us.
"So last summer, I started doing martial arts classes. Now I do Jeet Kune Do, Savate, Muay Thai Boxing and Kali Silat and at least I feel I could defend myself if I had to."
LAST month, Ashley took a further stand against bullying when she went online to offer advice and help to other victims of playground torment.
She set up a website and email address and invited bullied children too afraid to tell an adult to write in with their experiences.
She has been inundated with messages and now intends to compile figures from the emails to launch an anti-bullying campaign in a bid to force the Scottish Parliament and her local authority to take action.
She says: "I was amazed at how many people wrote to me with their stories - and just how many people are being bullied.
"I have a lot of friends who are also being bullied, but are too frightened to tell anybody in case things get worse."
Ashley's mum Barbara, 44, is also planning to take action to highlight the problem and help prevent other children suffering in the future.
Mother and daughter both know that bullying is hard to prove, but Barbara plans to sue education bosses at East Dunbartonshire Council for failing to protect her daughter from bullies.
And she wants to see head teachers build an anti-bullying programme into every school.
Barbara, who checks in with Ashley twice a day on her mobile phone to check she is okay and also meets her at the school gates to walk her home, says: "The bullying has had a devastating effect on our lives.
"Ashley's school grades have suffered. She was always a quiet, attentive child, but now instead of concentrating on her school work, she is constantly watching her back.
"So many times I've thought about Nicola and thought that it could have been Ashley who killed herself."
She adds: "We would move away if I felt bullying wouldn't happen elsewhere, but I can't guarantee that.
"If the government doesn't fund an anti-bullying campaign and doesn't admit there is a problem, how will it ever stop?
"Because it's not going to go away or die down. And when school starts again this month, it's going to start all over again."
TODAY, Ashley launches a signature campaign in Nicola's memory.
She feels few people acknowledge the importance of involving children in drawing up anti-bullying strategies and is calling on the Scottish Executive to sit up and take notice.
She says: "I will never forget hearing that Nicola had died. She told me she was being bullied, but I had no idea how much it was affecting her deep down and I had no idea it would come to this.
"People are being bullied for silly things. For example, if they wear glasses, they get called names. But really, bullies are doing it just to hide their own inadequacies.
"Nicola got full cans of Coke thrown at her and was called a 'freak' and a 'stupid Goth' among other things.
"But it didn't stop at the school gates. Nicola got chased on her way to and from school and she even had bricks thrown at her. It was just constant abuse."
Ashley adds: "Nicola's death was a waste of a life, but I want to make sure people learn from what happened to her.
"I am appealing to anyone out there who is being bullied to tell someone about it.
"We mustn't let these weak, sad individuals ruin our lives like they destroyed my friend Nicola's."
For more details, log on to www.stopbullying.sitekit.net or email Ashley at bullies@ evansb97.fsnet.co.uk.
How notes of support from victims prove bullying is a problem that must be tackled
It angers me when I read that someone has killed themselves due to the abuse that many of us receive. I think what you are doing is great, by the way.
It shouldn't take a death to bring such a large problem to the attention of East Dunbartonshire council or the Scottish Parliament. I think you are right to stand up for what you think is right and I'm sure Nicola would've been proud of you for facing these people and actually making a difference to some people's lives.
I have returned to school and learned to get on with my life. But the bullying still remains in my life. It has never disappeared. I hope you get on well with your campaign. Bullying is a real issue and shouldn't be swept under the carpet.
I believe it's not only the responsibility of the parents to ensure that children grow up knowing the value of compassion and understanding when socialising with other people. It's also the responsibility of school teachers to do the same and not to just pretend everything is fine.
What happened to Nicola was a terrible incident that made me rage with anger inside. A harmless human being killed herself all because of the way people slagged her for the way she was dressing. It isn't fair for this to happen. So it's great that you are standing up for all bully victims. It's something that I feel very strongly about.
I think it's really great what you are doing. Not many people stand up to bullies. Even though I didn't know your friend, it was upsetting to hear what had happened.