Molly Russell’s father pays a heart-rending tribute to his tragic daughter


Even the most astute observer would not have detected the turmoil in Molly Russell’s mind in the days that preceded her suicide.

The weekend before the youngest of Ian and Janet Russell’s three adored daughters took her own life, there was a party at the family’s home in Harrow, North-West London.

Ian remembers that evening in November 2017 as ‘one of the happiest days of my life’.

‘We had such a lovely time,’ he says. ‘All three of our daughters were born in November and it was a joint celebration for Molly’s older sisters’ 21st and 18th birthdays. We also acknowledged Molly’s 15th, which was coming up.

‘The house was full of family — both of the grandmas were there — and two friends who were heading off to New York told the girls: “We’re going to bring you each back a present. What would you like?”

Even the most astute observer would not have detected the turmoil in Molly Russell¿s mind in the days that preceded her suicide

Even the most astute observer would not have detected the turmoil in Molly Russell’s mind in the days that preceded her suicide

The weekend before the youngest of Ian and Janet Russell¿s three adored daughters took her own life, there was a party at the family¿s home in Harrow, North-West London

The weekend before the youngest of Ian and Janet Russell’s three adored daughters took her own life, there was a party at the family’s home in Harrow, North-West London

Ian, pictured, remembers that evening in November 2017 as ¿one of the happiest days of my life¿

Ian, pictured, remembers that evening in November 2017 as ‘one of the happiest days of my life’

‘Molly said: “That’s kind. Can you make sure it’s something I can’t get in London and something I can eat?” She was excited and engaged; looking forward to the future.

‘That day she came up and gave me a little hug. She’d grown out of giving her dad a hug, and she laid her head on my shoulder and gave me a lovely smile. I said: “I’ve missed that, Molly.” At the time I thought she was happy, but you look back and wonder . . .’

He weighs every word carefully; he does not succumb to the tears that threaten. Because Molly, it emerged, was dissembling: the levity of her mood masked despair.

Neither of her parents had any idea she was depressed. Much less did they realise that in the final six months of her promising young life, her sense of hopelessness — fuelled by 16,000 destructive posts on Instagram and Pinterest encouraging self-harm, anxiety and even suicide — was so great she would take her own life.

‘For the last year of her life, our bright, compassionate daughter inhabited a dark and dangerous digital world that gave her the tools to help her hide how she was feeling from us,’ says Ian. ‘One meme she followed advised: “Put a smile on your face and say: ‘I’m fine.”’

Neither of her parents had any idea she was depressed. Much less did they realise that in the final six months of her promising young life, her sense of hopelessness ¿ fuelled by 16,000 destructive posts on Instagram and Pinterest encouraging self-harm, anxiety and even suicide ¿ was so great she would take her own life

Neither of her parents had any idea she was depressed. Much less did they realise that in the final six months of her promising young life, her sense of hopelessness — fuelled by 16,000 destructive posts on Instagram and Pinterest encouraging self-harm, anxiety and even suicide — was so great she would take her own life

¿For the last year of her life, our bright, compassionate daughter inhabited a dark and dangerous digital world that gave her the tools to help her hide how she was feeling from us,¿ says Ian. ¿One meme she followed advised: ¿Put a smile on your face and say: ¿I¿m fine¿¿

‘For the last year of her life, our bright, compassionate daughter inhabited a dark and dangerous digital world that gave her the tools to help her hide how she was feeling from us,’ says Ian. ‘One meme she followed advised: “Put a smile on your face and say: ‘I’m fine”’

Senior coroner Andrew Walker said Molly had died from an act of self-harm while suffering from depression and ¿the negative effects of online content¿, which had ¿more than minimally¿ contributed to her death. He added that such posts ¿shouldn¿t have been available for a child to see¿

Senior coroner Andrew Walker said Molly had died from an act of self-harm while suffering from depression and ‘the negative effects of online content’, which had ‘more than minimally’ contributed to her death. He added that such posts ‘shouldn’t have been available for a child to see’

And last week in a landmark ruling — the first of its kind in the world — the senior coroner at North London coroner’s court recognised the devastating effect that such posts have on young minds.

Andrew Walker said Molly had died from an act of self-harm while suffering from depression and ‘the negative effects of online content’, which had ‘more than minimally’ contributed to her death.

He added that such posts ‘shouldn’t have been available for a child to see.’

Ian says: ‘The coroner’s verdict — that tech companies were in some way culpable for Molly’s death — was unprecedented, and to hear such an emphatic declaration was extraordinary. I don’t think it has fully sunk in yet.’

Today, as official figures reveal that four school children end their lives by suicide every week — ‘and many of these deaths have a connection to social media’ — Ian urges the Government to enshrine in law the Online Safety Bill cautioning: ‘Delay can be deadly.’

‘The age of self-regulation online has failed and to prevent more tragedies we must make the online world safer,’ he adds. ‘The Government has promised to make the UK the safest place in the world to be online and it is high time the bill was passed on to the statute books.’

Molly’s young life straddled two contrasting worlds: the bleak, secret one, and an outwardly happy one bounded by the love of her family.

Molly¿s young life straddled two contrasting worlds: the bleak, secret one, and an outwardly happy one bounded by the love of her family

Molly’s young life straddled two contrasting worlds: the bleak, secret one, and an outwardly happy one bounded by the love of her family

There were sleepovers, birthday treats to see favourite pop bands, an upcoming visit to the West End musical Hamilton

There were sleepovers, birthday treats to see favourite pop bands, an upcoming visit to the West End musical Hamilton

Riding, skiing, sailing ¿ she threw herself into active pursuits of her apparently happy middle-class life

Riding, skiing, sailing — she threw herself into active pursuits of her apparently happy middle-class life

There were sleepovers, birthday treats to see favourite pop bands, an upcoming visit to the West End musical Hamilton.

‘Molly could rap her way through the entire performance and was looking forward to seeing the show,’ her dad recalls.

Riding, skiing, sailing — she threw herself into active pursuits of her apparently happy middle-class life.

‘Molly showed no signs of mental ill health. She was a bright, compassionate girl, destined to do good,’ says Ian, 59, a film director and producer.

She was even due to take the lead role in her school’s drama production, highlighting her lines in marker pen and avidly learning them.

Yet, Ian observes: ‘As we got closer to understanding the anguish she lived with in the last year of her life, it was harrowing.

‘What she saw on social media dragged her away from the family who loved her and the support we could have given her.

‘The posts she engaged with introduced her to suicide; normalised it and told her it was inevitable.

‘They were bleak images. One, with a girl who had gouged out her own eyes, was captioned: “The world is so cruel I don’t want to see it any more.” Another with a black sky and pinprick stars read: “Who would notice if one of the stars went out tonight?”’

Worse, Molly’s depression was fed by the destructive algorithms of social media. ‘The more she watched, the more she was sent. She couldn’t escape it,’ says her father.

Ian said: 'What she saw on social media dragged her away from the family who loved her and the support we could have given her. The posts she engaged with introduced her to suicide; normalised it and told her it was inevitable'

Ian said: ‘What she saw on social media dragged her away from the family who loved her and the support we could have given her. The posts she engaged with introduced her to suicide; normalised it and told her it was inevitable’

Molly¿s depression was fed by the destructive algorithms of social media. ¿The more she watched, the more she was sent. She couldn¿t escape it,¿ says her father.

Molly’s depression was fed by the destructive algorithms of social media. ‘The more she watched, the more she was sent. She couldn’t escape it,’ says her father.

Even on the evening before she died, Molly¿s parents had no clue about the vortex of despair into which she had fallen

Even on the evening before she died, Molly’s parents had no clue about the vortex of despair into which she had fallen

‘I’m not saying that Silicon Valley has designed a way of luring young people to their deaths, but they have monetised misery; found a way of maximising profits by enticing them into the bleakest of worlds.’

Yet even on the evening before she died, Molly’s parents had no clue about the vortex of despair into which she had fallen.

In fact, Ian recalls the happy routine of their final evening together as a family of five: a chatty family dinner round the kitchen table; recollections of that lovely party.

‘And then we all ended up watching I’m a Celebrity . . . Get Me Out of Here!, which was essential viewing for the girls, along with Strictly.

‘It was just such a normal evening. Then Molly packed her schoolbag and we all got ready for bed. I put my head round her door and we both said: “See you tomorrow morning. Love you.” It had become a little ritual. I don’t know why.

‘And those were the last words I said to her . . . that was the last time I saw her alive.’

Then there was the bustle of the following morning — Tuesday, November 21, 2017 — as Ian’s eldest daughter, a teaching assistant, left early for her one day a week at university and Janet, then also a teaching assistant, prepared for work.

Ian was checking emails on his laptop when Janet asked him about Molly’s whereabouts.

‘I remember her saying: “Where’s Molly?” and I said: “I don’t know. She must be somewhere.” And that’s when Janet went upstairs and I heard her scream.

‘I rushed up immediately and I remember a sort of terror. Janet was coming out of Molly’s room and she said: “Don’t go in there.” But I did, and saw the lifeless body of my youngest daughter.

Ian recalls the happy routine of their final evening together as a family of five: a chatty family dinner round the kitchen table; recollections of that lovely party. And then we all ended up watching I¿m a Celebrity . . . Get Me Out of Here!, which was essential viewing for the girls, along with Strictly'

Ian recalls the happy routine of their final evening together as a family of five: a chatty family dinner round the kitchen table; recollections of that lovely party. And then we all ended up watching I’m a Celebrity . . . Get Me Out of Here!, which was essential viewing for the girls, along with Strictly’

‘I laid Molly on the floor, thinking, “Maybe there is hope”, and breathed into her mouth, starting CPR.

‘I remember doing chest compressions and thinking: “Whatever happens I’m grateful for the 14 years we had with her.”

‘It was a branch to cling to so as not to be submerged in the torrent of emotion. Your heart has to find a way to beat again. That is the human reaction to adversity.’

Janet, meanwhile, dialled 999. A paramedic arrived within minutes. Ian continued with the CPR while the paramedic carried out tests.

‘And then he said: “You can stop now. I have some dreadful news. She is dead . . .” And I was in shock. There was this slamming sense that what you’d hoped would not happen had happened.

‘Later the police said they had found me in tears, but I don’t remember crying. A horrible numb sense of nothingness took over at that point. I don’t remember much at all.

‘The police asked us to go downstairs so they could talk to us, but I said: “I can’t go. I can’t leave her.”

‘And I sat on the floor with the body of my dead daughter not believing it had happened, not wanting to let her go.’

But there were practicalities to attend to — and the priority was telling the Russells’ eldest daughter, who had not yet come home.

As well as their searing grief, the family had to contend with the unfolding horror of a police inquiry into why Molly had taken her life. Her electronic devices were removed as potential evidence. Handwritten notes were found

As well as their searing grief, the family had to contend with the unfolding horror of a police inquiry into why Molly had taken her life. Her electronic devices were removed as potential evidence. Handwritten notes were found

‘The police drove me to a rendezvous — blue lights flashing, horns blaring — and it felt as though I was in a movie,’ Ian recalls.

‘Our eldest daughter must have suspected something dreadful, and I got out of the police car and said to her: “I don’t know how to tell you this, but I have the worst possible news. Molly is dead.”

‘We dissolved into tears, hugged each other, and I remember a dust cart honking its horn because our cars were blocking their way.

‘They interrupted this intense bubble of grief and I wanted to shout and scream.’

As well as their searing grief, the family had to contend with the unfolding horror of a police inquiry into why Molly had taken her life. Her electronic devices were removed as potential evidence. Handwritten notes were found.

‘This is all part of the tortuous procedural journey a bereaved family has to go through when there is a suicide,’ says Ian. ‘We felt both a burning need yet huge trepidation to know what Molly’s notes had said.

‘I was in floods of tears at the police station when I read them. They showed the anguish poor Molly was hiding from us because she didn’t want to burden us.’

He finds one, utterly heartbreaking in content, which sums up her despair: ‘I’m sorry. I did this because of me. I’m the problem in everyone’s life.

‘I love you all. Live long. Promise me you will. I will see you when you are old and grey. Stay strong. I am proud of you xxx’

Ian pauses to summon strength and continues: ‘Yet she was the solution to others’ problems, a bundle of joy; a force for good.

‘Those acidic emotions stripped the life force from her and she saw herself as hopeless, worthless, and it was amplified by the content she saw on social media platforms.’

Ian adds: ¿Having seen the effect it had on expert witnesses, our solicitor, the police, me ¿ I don¿t think there was a chance that a 14-year-old would survive it. ¿That is why it needs to be talked about, parents need to be aware; conversations must be had¿

Ian adds: ‘Having seen the effect it had on expert witnesses, our solicitor, the police, me — I don’t think there was a chance that a 14-year-old would survive it. ‘That is why it needs to be talked about, parents need to be aware; conversations must be had’

So pernicious was this content the psychiatrist who gave evidence at Molly’s inquest said he’d had sleepless nights after viewing it.

The family’s solicitor, Merry Varney, from law firm Leigh Day, spent 1,000 hours reviewing it and concluded: ‘I’m an optimist, but the hopelessness portrayed on many of the posts that Molly saved or liked started sucking that light out of me.’

Ian adds: ‘Having seen the effect it had on expert witnesses, our solicitor, the police, me — I don’t think there was a chance that a 14-year-old would survive it.

‘That is why it needs to be talked about, parents need to be aware; conversations must be had.’

Molly heeded well the deadly lesson imparted by the posts to hide her anguish. Teachers at her high-achieving school, Hatch End High in Harrow, also had no clue to her suffering.

‘We had the normal concerns you might have with any teenager. I don’t think there is a single parent in our situation who does not feel some self-reproach,’ Ian says.

‘You have to work hard not to blame yourself but, of course, you look back and wish you could have seen the invisible enemy that was destroying your daughter.

‘There are days when that feeling dominates and days when the more rational side of your brain tells you it was almost impossible to know there was anything wrong with Molly.’

There is solace, however, in helping other young people who feel the same sense of hopelessness. To this end, the Russells have set up the Molly Rose Foundation in their daughter’s memory.

‘Before Molly died, we were just a normal, ordinary family,’ Ian says. ‘I don’t think anything we’ve done is exceptional, but we decided to try to help others find sources of support rather than the life-sucking, dark content she fell prey to.

‘I have no doubt at all that she would have endorsed what the charity is doing in her name. She loved helping people and noticed when they needed support. It was always her aim: to do something if someone needed her help.’

  • For help with issues raised here, go to mollyrosefoundation.org or text MRF to 85258 or call the Samaritans on 116 123.



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