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Pre-inquest reviews into the death of Molly Russell

Pre-inquest review hearings into the death of schoolgirl Molly Russell have been told about her significant use of social media and the potential harm it caused her.

Posted on 11 February 2021

The coroner has raised concerns about delays in progressing to a final hearing and said every day there is a potential risk to those exposed to the material still. 

Molly, from Harrow in London, viewed material linked to anxiety, depression, self-harm and suicide before ending her life in November 2017 when she was aged 14.

Coroner Andrew Walker said "some or all" social media companies, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and Pinterest could be named as interested persons in the inquest and that they would be "best placed" to give technical information for the case.
 
He also asked for a mental health professional with expertise in the potential impacts of viewing extreme material to be appointed to give evidence to the inquest.
 
A hearing on 26 September, 2020 was told that the inquest into Molly’s death will look at how algorithms used by social media giants to keep users on the platform and which promoted images may have contributed to her death.

Instagram's parent company Facebook had recently released a "significant volume" of material, some “pretty dreadful” relating to the case, Oliver Sanders QC told Barnet's Coroner's Court.

He said certain parts of the material had been redacted and that Facebook Instagram had refused to provide further information.

Five months later, at a second pre-inquest review held this week, the Coroner was told that Molly engaged with tens of thousands of social media posts in the six months before she died, including content which “raised concerns”.

Mr Sanders said the information provided by Facebook presented two issues – accessing the data provided in “enormous” spreadsheets which included links to either private or deactivated profiles, and redacted content provided by the company.

Press Association reported Mr Sanders saying: “In broad terms, Facebook/Instagram have been willing to discuss the first of those issues, but they are not willing to discuss what other data they might have.”

Molly’s father, Ian Russell, has been provided with access to Molly’s Twitter profile.

Mr Sanders said in the last six months of her life, Molly tweeted or retweeted 460 times. Some of those messages raise concerns.”

He said she had liked 4,100 tweets, was following 116 accounts and had 42 followers.

She was a much more active user of Pinterest, with more than 15,000 engagements,
Press Association reported Mr Walker saying: “What does trouble me is this matter does need to move on. Every day the inquest is delayed presents a potential risk to others exposed to this material.”

Leigh Day partner Merry Varney represents Molly’s family. She said:

“Our client welcomes the Senior Coroner’s recognition that Molly’s inquest should if possible be heard as soon as reasonable possible and in particular his recognition of the potential harm being caused to other children being currently exposed to similar depressing and graphic material that Molly was.”

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Merry Varney
Court of Protection Inquests

Merry Varney

Merry is a partner in the human rights department and head of the Leigh Day inquest group

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