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MUM SUES SUICIDE SCHOOL; Bullies left son scarred for life They drove my girl to kill herself I'll sue for sake of other victims.


THE mother of a teenager who killed herself after being bullied by fellow pupils is to sue one of Scotland's top schools.

Rhona Raphael blames Lenzie Academy for the death of her 15-year-old daughter, Nicola.

After reading her daughter's poems and suicide note, she believes Nicola killed herself because she could no longer stand the bullies' intimidation and harassment, and was picked on because she was a Goth.

Now we can tell for the first time how Nicola's elder brother, Christopher, 19, also suffered years of physical torture and taunts at the same school. He was no Goth. He was a model pupil who wore his uniform every day, went to church, and played classical piano.

Last month, the Sunday Mail told how Nicola's idol, cult Goth rocker Marilyn Manson, stopped his Gig on the Green performance in Glasgow to hold up a picture of Nicola and dedicate a song to her.

Choking back sobs, Rhona Raphael said: "Both my children suffered years of abuse and torment at Lenzie Academy. But the headmaster and education authorities refuse to admit there is a problem.

"Christopher was picked on and attacked because he was clever, played piano and went to church. When school bullies finished with Christopher, he was so badly injured, he was bandaged and bruised. They targeted his hands, and he's never played piano again.

"They picked on Nicola because she was beautiful and dared to be different with her Goth make-up. Thanks to these evil tormentors, my lovely daughter is dead.

"Nicola wrote their names in her final letters and poems. We know who they are and they must live with her death on their conscience."

In her poetry, tortured Nicola wrote of her tormentors:

Dancing in your micro-mini, YOU call ME a freak

The world is full of people like you

People like me are rejected

Mum Rhona went on: "Nicola's spirit won't ever die, because I won't rest until the people who persecuted her are dealt with, and those who were supposed to protect her are made to answer for gross dereliction of duty."

Rhona is to sue the local education authority over the loss of her daughter. Her son Christopher is considering legal action, and other parents are lining up to do the same.

Leading lawyer Cameron Fyfe said: "I have been contacted by a number of families and I'm preparing legal actions. Each paints a shocking, harrowing picture."

In tears, Rhona,48, clasped her dead daughter's poems and last letters, detailing her anguish and despair.

Nicola's heartbreaking suicide note said simply: "I can't live my life like this any longer. Don't blame yourself, mum."

Rhona said: "Kids would chase her, throw things at her, attack her, persecute her. It went on for almost two years.

"They called her 'Freak', 'Zombie' and 'Walking Dead' and took every opportunity to attack her physically.

"I sat with her night after night, trying to explain her tormentors were ignorant, jealous, inadequate people. But teenagers feel things with exaggerated emotion.

"In the end, it all got too much, and Nicola could no longer handle it.

"She was in such deep, deep despair, she took her own life with an overdose.

"We will never get over our loss. Nicola was a much-loved daughter. The pain of losing her is simply unbearable."

Nicola's brother Christopher knows only too well the despair she suffered. He was a victim of a four-year bullying campaign at Lenzie Academy .

Christopher, who has had to take a year out from St Andrews University to overcome the loss of his sister, said: "I was beaten and taunted by thugs for years at that school. I reported the incidents, but I wasn't properly supported, even when teachers witnessed incidents. One day, a bully repeatedly pelted me with pellets in front of a teacher. I snapped and hit back. Instead of dealing with the bullies, the school suspended me."

In 1997, after hearing evidence, East Dunbartonshire Council's appeal committee unanimously kicked out the exclusion order.

Christopher said: "I returned to school, but was still picked on. The day I left Lenzie Academy was the happiest day of my life. I was leaving the terror behind.

"When the same things started with my sister, I was very afraid for her. Nicola tried to stay strong on the outside, but I could tell she was scared.

"She used to counsel other bullying victims, but inside she felt alone.

"When we found her poems and private diaries, they showed how much she was hurting. I still can't believe she's not here. I keep expecting to hear Marilyn Manson music pounding out of her room. But there's only silence."

Despite her apprehension in meeting the cult Satanic rocker, Rhona was overwhelmed when Manson dedicated a song to Nicola. He told the crowds: "This is a girl called Nicola who was battered and bullied at school until she couldn't take any more, and killed herself."

Afterwards, the star met Rhona and hugged away her tears. Rhona said: "Nicola had begged me to let her go to see her idol. I thought it fitting that I should go in her place.

"When Marilyn told her story on stage, I collapsed in tears. Backstage afterwards, he held me and comforted me, and told me how sorry he was that a wonderful young girl's life was snuffed out."

Rhona opened her heart to tell how Nicola's first brush with Goth fashion was a simple Hallowe'en joke. She said: "Nicola was just 12 and decided to dress up as a Goth. I helped her. Little did we know that, a few years later, she would embrace the fashion seriously.

"She'd dress up with outrageous black clothes and paint her eyes but, at school, she still wore her school shirt and tie and didn't really look different."

On her first day at Lenzie Academy, Nicola looked the perfect picture of a proud pupil. Four years later, she was a shadow of her former outgoing self.

Rhona said: "After what happened to Christopher, it was a nightmare to relive it all again with Nicola. Time after time, she was attacked verbally and physically.

"She regularly came home dishevelled and injured. Once, she was pelted with bricks and suffered injuries to her back."

Although Rhona made complaints to Lenzie Academy headmaster Roderick McLelland, the bullying continued. Rhona said: "He told Nicola, and me, that if she continued to wear fashions that made her different, what could we expect.

"When asked for action, he instructed all Goths in the school to sit outside his office and not to go into the playground. That only stigmatised them more.

"He didn't once tackle the problem, and I have statements from other pupils and parents."

Only days before her death, Nicola and other Goths had to be escorted from the school to keep them safe from bullies.

Eventually, in desolation and despair, Nicola closed her bedroom door, carefully wrote loving letters to her family and friends, then swallowed 40 painkillers.

She died on Sunday, June 24, without regaining consciousness.

Her vital organs were donated to save the lives of other children. Rhona was touched to receive a letter from the family of a six-year-old boy called Jack, who no longer needs dialysis as a result.

The day after Nicola died, Rhona went to Lenzie Academy, determined to see Mr McLelland. She said: "He refused to see me. I was told he was too busy."

Even on the day of Nicola's funeral, as the church was crowded with sobbing school friends, the bullies tried to win.

Rhona said: "They gave out free passes to the 'Goth Funeral'. I'll never forget the evil, cackling crowd that gathered at the cemetery wall, pointing and smirking.

"I have to pass Nicola's grave several times a day, and I still see her friends there, leaving notes and lighting candles.

"It was her 16th birthday a few days ago, and I took her up a birthday cake. I stood at her headstone, lit the candles and talked to her for hours, telling how much we all missed her. She is at peace now, but we are in torment.

"I lay the blame squarely on the school. Parents must be vigilant and keep their children safe. They must take action if kids show any signs of distress or worry.

"Nicola's death has shocked many people. I hope she didn't die in vain, and that schools everywhere will take proper steps to stamp out bullying before there are any other victims."

A spokesman for East Dunbartonshire Council said: "We would wish, again, to offer our condolences to Nicola's family.

"Lenzie Academy has a strict anti- bullying policy and was acknowledged by Her Majesty's Inspectorate for its buddying scheme, which offers support to younger pupils from older students.

"All allegations of bullying were investigated by the school at the time and appropriate action was taken.

"The council has had intimation of legal action, so it would be inappropriate to make any further comment."
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Publication:Sunday Mail (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Sep 23, 2001
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