By Neil Marr - February 2011
Bullycide: Death at Playtime was the book that blew the lid off the bully-associated child suicide epidemic Tim Field and I named ‘bullycide’. Our shattering statistics were the first ever reported on what had been a secret and fatal schoolyard syndrome that causes terror and death at playtime. My heartbreaking interviews and case histories in its pages opened the eyes of an indifferent world in denial. It’s a book crammed with useful, encouraging advice from the tirelessly campaigning Tim. It has spawned countless other books, official action, scholarly reports, plays, movies, parent-teacher groups, media campaigns and websites. But has the world really learned since its original publication exactly ten years ago? Are things getting better for embattled kids who see life as a fate worse than death, or are the bullies using new, more covert means to practice their lethal evil?
This second edition – not so much an update as a history lesson (and those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it) – is by overwhelming popular request. As you’ll see from the week-after-release reviews of the first edition (below), Bullycide: Death at Playtime immediately made its mark on the world. And, of course, like all books, there’s a personal story behind it.
Our book did exactly what Tim and I had intended it to. It identified, named and exposed for the first time an all-but secret syndrome that was claiming untold young lives around the planet, day-in, day-out ... and its bold demand for action was heard, echoes around the globe even now, and is being constructively acted upon by fine and dedicated organisations like Bully UK and the Field Foundation, the anti-bullying charity Tim set up shortly before his death. My word ‘bullycide’ (clumsily constructed as it might have been but accepted by Tim with a raised eyebrow and a smile) was a catchy code for newspaper headlines and has firmly entered the vocabulary. I’ve even seen the word used in its English form in Russian, Japanese and Arabic texts on the subject. Only the most pragmatic grammarian would object, I hope.
I considered my job done and turned to other pressing projects. Tim battled on. An unfinished manuscript in computer files, discovered by his family after he suddenly died, contained the raw material and early chapters for a carefully researched, insightful work on what he called ‘serial bullying’; bullies who, unchallenged and unrepentant, graduate from the schoolyard and practice their evil in all spheres of adult life. Whereas the bullied so often do, it seems the bully never dies. Tim’s form of noted shorthand is difficult to comprehend because the most vital information was always in his head. So far, neither I nor his family have found anyone qualified and willing to take on the task of trying to pick up the manuscript where Tim laid off. But Tim’s text-book work ‘Bully in Sight’ is soon to be re-released.
So much has happened positively on the back of Bullycide: Death at Playtime that I resisted re-release after its original version went out of print after all its thousands of copies had been sold. But – out-dated as some of its content may now seem at first glance – the demand for a re-release has been so high and pressing that I decided to go ahead. And, once I started work on Edition Two, the tears flowed as freely as they did during those long months of painful interviews with grieving and bewildered parents and families who thought they were alone in their agony. I realised that the individual, detailed stories and the heart-wrung interviews are as fresh and meaningful today as they ever were – probably even more so because the bereaved now know that they’re not alone, bullycide exists, and those intimately revealed personal histories reflect the tragic stories of today’s continued tragedy.
My co-author and pal, Tim, died six years ago and it is now ten years since the release of our book, so – with tremendous and warm encouragement from his widow, Susan, and children, Michael and Fiona – I’ve left this version largely in its original form for release on the date of Tim’s death in thanks and in tribute to his gentle contribution to a cruel world.
Tim was a good man; a bully victim, once brought to psychological breakdown, who recovered and refused the ‘victim’ role to became a champion. But, rare as he was, he too was not alone. My research turned up household names – from actors to athletes – who had bravely struggled to the top of their fields of endeavour in spite of their early experiences as targets of bullying. They’re in the book. They and Tim are heroes. There’s an entire generation now with that same potential.
The second edition of Bullycide: Death at Playtime carries a touching memorial to Tim by some of those who knew him best. Tim was the Little Big Man.
We never actually met face-to-face, Tim and I. That pleasure we had scheduled for the summer of the very year he died (we’d planned to talk Star Trek and share a glass or two in the Mediterranean sun for a couple of weeks). We worked together by telephone and emailed manuscript updates. And we became very close friends. In fact, I once wrote about how effective and warm our collaboration at distance had been in a piece called ‘Strangers in the Write’, which is still around the net if you want to take a look.
It must be realised that – unlike other authors since – I had zero research material to work with and started from scratch. No easy task when ‘responsible’ authorities are still denying the very existence of the fatal syndrome. My statistics and detailed evidence was even challenged by the head of my original large publishing house as sensationally fanciful. They pulled out. Tim, who was not involved in my book at the time, other than as a contributor of a few lines of quoted comments, encouraged me not to give up when that publisher cancelled my publishing contract and offered to join me, the ‘hack’, as the ‘boffin’ of the team. That added the book the ‘weight’ of scholarship it needed.
And Tim took the courageous publish-and-be-damned approach, by-passing reluctant or just plain scared publishers, by releasing Bullycide: Death at Playtime through his own small press in Oxford. It took him all of ten minutes to reach his decision. His investment in time and money was not insignificant. That, I will never forget.
It turns out, of course, that those dreadful UK figures I so carefully arrived at through several years of research and which Tim supported were, if anything, conservative. And they have proven to be representative per-capita in other countries.
That dearth of material, blatant non-cooperation by the authorities and absolute lack of co-ordinated study back then means that our research has now been taken as a basis, honed, updated and handled by more highly qualified specialists we alerted to the problem. It is now a major and international concern ... and it IS being tackled.
Just before Christmas, President Barak Obama and others in the US took up the cry “It Gets Better”. So whereas we exposed the horrific dangers, folks heard our wake-up call and even the highest-profiles now provide the positive message to any youngster who feels, literally, intimidated to death ... don’t give in ... it gets better.
And it does get better ... if we give the desperate targets of bullying a chance to find out before it’s too late. The message is writ big: “YOU ARE NOT ALONE IN YOUR MISERY – AND THERE’S HELP AT HAND!”
We now have cyber-bullying, school and university gun massacres linked with bullying, homophobic bullying is high-profile, cell-phone bullying (in embryo when I investigated and reported) is rife. But at least it’s in the spotlight and no longer under the carpet.
So this re-release does not pretend an up-to-the-minute weather report. This book is where awareness of bullycide began. It’s the exposé that rang the alarm bell.
Some immediate reaction that prompted positive action can be read in early press reviews, some of which are copied below.
My old chum, Tim (my Little Big Man), I know would have been solidly behind Susan, Michael, Fiona and me (the Hack) when we made the decision to do has he had so proudly done ... publish and be damned.
The book is available at all online stores in paperback and in all ebook formats, published by BeWrite Books (www.bewrite.net). Cover price is £11.70 for paperback and £3.70 for ebook editions (or local currency equivalent). If you’re really broke, don’t be shy; drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll see that you get the ebook format of your choice with the compliments of Tim, his family, and with mine.
The authors make their purpose clear. They intended to shock, and they succeeded. Although tragic stories dominate the book, there’s lots of practical advice too. It’s an angry book … an excellent book – a call to action and a cry on behalf of unhappy children. Gerald Haigh. Times Education Supplement.
A horrifying book … shocking … should be required reading for every education authority. Liz Carnell. Yorkshire Evening Post. Screams failure of all adults. Hellen Connel. London Free Press
A major new book … exposes child suicide caused by bullying. Geoffrey Shryhane. Lancashire Evening Post
The book uncovers an almost secret syndrome, which is reaching epidemic proportions. The authors slam the authorities for doing little to tackle the problem. Stephanie Bell. Sunday Life
Marr and Field have coined the word ‘bullycide’ to describe the tragic decision of children to choose suicide rather than face another day of bullying. The book provides statistics, case studies and expert advice. Mary Stevens. UK Press Gazette
Reveals the extent of childhood bullying and the despair that pushes British kids to attempt suicides … 19,000 every year. All schools write virtuous policies, but few put their fine intentions into practice. Yasmin Alibhai Brown. The Independent
Death at playtime
An exposé of child suicide caused by bullying
by Neil Marr and Tim Field
Introduction by Jo Brand
Published by Success Unlimited 2001
Paperback, 18 chapters, 320 pages, resources, index
Click book cover (left) for more information
"This is an excellent book"
(The TES, May 2001)
"Should be required reading in every LEA in the
(Yorkshire Evening Post, March 2001)
Whilst the UK government focuses on the war in Iraq, the war in British schools and playgrounds which leaves at least 16 children dead every year is ignored and dismissed. 16 child deaths a year at the hands of bullies is the equivalent of a Dunblane massacre in our schools each year. Despite repeated calls for action, the Department for Education and Skills (DfES) pays lip service and declines to keep statistics on this recognised but preventable death toll. Coroners often record verdicts of accidental death or misadventure because the circumstances were not sufficiently clear to meet the "beyond reasonable doubt" criteria for a suicide verdict. The true total of child deaths caused by bullying could therefore be as high as 80 a year.
Bullycide: death at playtime is a book by Neil Marr and Tim Field which exposes the death toll of child suicide caused by bullying at school. Every year, at least 16 families will experience the nightmare of coming home to find the lifeless body of their child. They will then discover that the bullying which drove their child to suicide had been going on for months and that the school knew all about it but had taken no effective action. The moment parents start their investigation they are likely to find themselves and their dead child vilified and blamed. [See FAQs and Myths explained]
This pioneering book reveals the main reason why children are picked on: because they have a very low propensity to violence and a mature understanding of the need to resolve conflict with dialogue rather than violence. Bullies exploits these values - which society claims to cherish - and torment their prey for weeks, months, or years until the anger built up inside the target becomes uncontainable and explodes into violence. Because of their moral integrity and heightened emotional maturity, almost all targets of bullying will direct the anger onto themselves - which results in depression, self-harm or suicide. This heroic act is in stark contrast to the cowardly and thuggish nature of the bully who, when called to account, will aggressively but plausibly deny everything. The bully is often able to manipulate the perceptions of the responsible adults so that they also now victimise the target.
Every year in the UK...
From chapter 1: Strawberry Fields Forever
Steven Shepherd walked alone.
His longest lonely walk took him a lifetime. He never came home.
Steven lay down in the faraway strawberry fields where he had spent the only happy day of his eleven short years on earth ... and he stayed in Strawberry Fields Forever.
John Lennon had written the song a few weeks before. Then Steven died and made the words mean more than the Beatle, writing of a Salvation Army home for lost boys a few miles from the scene of Steven's death, could ever have imagined.
Steven willed himself to death and became Britain's first recorded bullycide.
Imagine that cruel January night in 1967 with rain whipping. He'd tossed away his sodden shoes. The chill nibbled like rats. And he was all but blind without the cheap wire-rimmed National Health specs he had discarded on his ten-mile trek. He'd made sure he would see no more terrible tomorrows.
You can download all of Chapter 1 for free from Electric eBook Publishing.
From chapter 2: Little flowers
I shall remember forever and will never forget.
Monday: my money was taken.
Tuesday: names called.
Wednesday: my uniform torn.
Thursday: my body pouring with blood.
Friday: it's ended.
The final diary pages of 13-year-old Vijay Singh. He was found hanging from the banister rail at his home on Sunday.
The local ... Council who looked into each of her family's bullying complaints said: "These were concerns the school took very seriously and dealt with promptly. In each case the concerns were fully investigated and dealt with and the Council's anti-bullying policy was followed to the letter. Senior staff dealt with the incidents involved and they were properly logged. There was nothing to raise any serious concerns."
When these words were spoken, Marie [Bentham] was already dead.
But the complaints had been properly logged.
A child care worker told us afterwards: "The main environment in which the bullies act is one of secrecy. Investigations of complaints seldom do any good. There should be no complaints. Teachers should be educated to see problems before they arise and nip them in the bud."
From chapter 10: A call away
Even when a bullycide attempt is unsuccessful, lives can be wrecked. Kidscape's Long-term Effects of Bullying study published in Bully Free in 1999 reads:
"Forty-six percent of the respondents (bully victims involved in the survey) had contemplated suicide. Twenty percent attempted suicide, some more than once.
The Kidscape report concludes: "This is the first time adults have been questioned about their experiences of being bullied as children and how this might have affected their lives. The oldest respondent was 81 but, as with the rest, time had not dimmed the memories.
"Contrary to popular opinion, being bullied at school does not help children to cope better with adult life. In fact it has the opposite effect. Adults who were bullied as children tend to have problems with self-esteem, feelings of anger and bitterness, suicidal thoughts and attempts, and difficulty relating to people.
"The lessons for us today are clear: if we allow bullying to go on, we are condemning another generation.
"It should be borne in mind that the results of the survey reveal only the tip of the iceberg. Many have suffered worse treatment than those who took part ... they have succeeded in their suicide attempts."
Just in case anyone should still believe the myth that bullies are tough and successful, former victims who know of the fate of their tormentors report that the bullies have led lives full of failure and lacking in fulfilment, often continuing to damage the lives of those with whom they come into contact.
From chapter 14: Seconds out
Record-setting round-the-world balloonist Brian Jones recalls how in his teens having been driven to attempt suicide tried because of bullying at school, the moment when he finally overcame the feelings of shame and embarrassment:
"I'm in my fifties now and remember that what's so important is the destruction of self-esteem when you're young and the terrible, unwarranted embarrassment. I still don't know why I became a target or why the bully became a bully."
This wasn't at the front of Brian's mind as one half of the first duo to circumnavigate the world. It's when he touched down that he realised something had happened that had changed his life.
"The spark, I think, was over North Africa, looking down on a landscape which was unbelievably beautiful and feeling ourselves the luckiest, most privileged men in the history of the world, then realising that there were kids down there starving to death and grown-ups trying to kill each other and realising what a crazy world it really is."
From chapter 17: The happiest days of your life
Never again should anyone be in doubt about how it feels to be the target of bullying.
To wake up each day knowing that you have to go to school, knowing there's no way of avoiding it, knowing that the moment you set out for school the bullies are there, waiting for you to arrive, waiting to call you names, to tease you, torment you, humiliate and mock you, embarrass you in front of friends, push you, punch you, slap you, pinch you, spit on you, kick you, and ... you daren't think about the rest, or the possible consequences.
Don't the bullies behave like perfect darlings whenever a teacher approaches? Aren't they polite and deferential, until the teacher is out of sight, then the kicking, punching, spitting, tormenting starts over, school books are damaged (how am I going to explain that again?), homework defaced (ditto), projects sabotaged, food spoilt, possessions pilfered, personal items desecrated, clothes ripped, school uniform torn, dinner money stolen, pocket money extorted. Just another normal day. Like yesterday. And the day before. Like tomorrow. And the day after that.
From chapter 18: End of term report
Each bullycide is an unpalatable fact that a child has died as a result of the deliberate actions of another in an environment where the responsible adults have failed to provide a mechanism for reporting, intervening, and dealing with physical and psychological violence. The excuses of "we didn't know" or "we didn't understand" are no longer valid.
Bullycide: death at playtime is an answer to all those cries for help, recorded or otherwise. We heard Marie Bentham, our youngest case at only 8 years old. We heard Denise Baillie, at four weeks the shortest case. We've described the sustained campaigns mounted against Kelly Yeomans and Katherine Jane Morrison, and we've detailed the final unbearable moments of Steven Shepherd in the strawberry fields at Newburgh and Lucy Forrester at Congleton railway station.
At least sixteen families will lose a child to bullycide this year. Schools, and especially those with managerial responsibility for education, must do better.
We must all do better.
For more information click here.
Bullycide: death at playtime is available on the Internet in a variety of electronic forms including html, pdf, pdb, lit and tk3: click here.
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