A coroner records an open verdict in the death of 17-year-old Joseph Edwards, who was found hanged at his home by his mother
A schoolboy hanged himself after receiving a bogus “police” email which claimed he had been looking at illegal websites and had to pay £100 or face being prosecuted.
A-level student Joseph Edwards suffered from autism which probably made him more susceptible to believing the scam was genuine, a coroner heard on Thursday.
The 17-year-old was found hanged at his home by his mother who has since launched a campaign to make children more aware of the dangers from internet scams, many of which originate from abroad.
Joseph received the online spam message, purportedly from Cheshire police, claiming that he had been visiting illegal websites on his computer and he would have to pay a large sum of money to avoid officers taking action.
However, the youngster took the bogus message literally because of his autism, leading him to hang himself in his family home in Windsor, Berkshire, the inquest heard.
The schoolboy had spent the day at home, when his mother Jacqueline returned to the house after 6pm, opening the door to find his body hanging in the hallway.
His tearful mother told the hearing at Windsor Guildhall how her son had been a “happy boy”.
“He was generally happy and had just started new friendship circles and was enjoying himself,” she told the coroner.
“He didn’t seem to have any worries known to me. I don’t think he really understood.
“He did suffer from autism. I’m not sure he would have really understood the implications of what he was doing.
“He wouldn’t have done anything to upset myself or his sister, not deliberately.”
Ms Edwards told the hearing how she had run into the street, screaming hysterically and a neighbour, truck driver Lee Jobson, came to help, cutting Joseph down and calling the emergency services.
Police who attended the scene, seized the teenager’s laptop, along with a note he had left for his mother.
“It seems that from examining the computer that there appeared to be some sort of scam on it,” coroner Michael Burgess said.
“He had inadvertently clicked onto this and it seemed to be, according to the police, ‘a poor attempt at blackmail.’
“It (his autism) may have meant he took it very seriously. ”
People with the developmental disability often do not understand sarcasm or lies and take things very literally.
Detective Sergeant Peter Wall, investigating the “elaborate” scam, said it was very difficult to trace those responsible but that the police believed it to have originated abroad.
It was thought young Joseph received a spam email, complete with Cheshire Police insignia, demanding money and downloading a virus onto his computer.
The scam wrongly claimed indecent images had been found in Joseph’s possession and he would have to pay up to prevent the “police” taking things further.
Fearing causing his mother and sister Georgia distress, the traumatised young boy, who was studying his A-levels at Windsor Boys’ School, instead took his own life, the inquest heard.
A post-mortem investigation showed the youngster, from Windsor, Berkshire, had died from asphyxia as a result of hanging.
“Joseph was subjected to a scam on the internet, a threatening, fake police link that was asking for money,” his mother said in a statement.
“He would have taken it literally because of his autism and he didn’t want to upset Georgia or me.
“The internet is an amazing thing, but it can also be dangerous and I want parents to make sure their children are aware of this sort of scam, especially autistic children, because they will not understand.
“Jospeh was a very loving boy. He had a quirky sense of humour, and was just starting to develop his confidence and in many ways he was a typical teenager, despite being autistic.
“He was a sensible, calm, kind and gentle boy – those are all words people are using about him, but his friends have also told me they will remember him as a ‘crazy dancer.'”
Joseph, a keen football fan, had attended a mainstream school, despite his autism diagnosis, and the family had been planning to travel to New York together to celebrate his 18th birthday.
Recording an open verdict into Joseph’s death, coroner Michael Burgess said: “Taking all this evidence into account, I am satisfied that on the 6th of August you found him at his home in the hallway.
“He was suspended from the bannister by a ligature.
“You tell me he had been diagnosed with a disorder. This scam may have caused him great distress and difficulty.
“I’m not satisfied that he necessarily understood the implications that he would die from it.
“Although he undertook that action himself, his intention is not clear from the evidence.
“It’s what we call an open verdict.
“I’m sure and hope you will remember him for the better moments of his life than for the way that he died.”
After Joseph’s death, a Facebook page was set up called “Fake Police Email Scam in Memory of Joseph Edwards.”
A statement said: “On August 6 2014 Joseph Edwards, received a fake email scam from Cheshire Police (Ukash Scam) informing him that he had been visiting illegal websites, which also generated a virus locking his laptop.
“He was asked to pay a sum of £100 or face being prosecuted. These emails are sent on headed paper from police authorities on both a national and global basis.
“This message was designed to look extremely convincing due to the official police headed paper.
“Joseph, who suffered from Autistic Spectrum Disorder, was so distressed by the accusation and by the demand for money sadly took his own life.
“This page is set up for a plea for more action to be taken against such websites and for the prosecution of those responsible for them.
“Also to raise awareness of the dangers these sites present, not only to children but also to older people and many others may be vulnerable to this sort of extortion.
“We must do more to stop this, please share this to raise awareness.
Original source : http://www.telegraph.co.uk