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Seven suicides in a year unsettle Welsh town

Seven young people around this town in south Wales have died in the last 12 months in what officials fear is a spate of suicides.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Seven young people around this town in south Wales have died in the last 12 months in what officials fear is a spate of suicides.

Police said Wednesday they were examining the computer of a 17-year-old girl found hanged in her bedroom last week. The death of Natasha Randall brings to seven the number of apparent suicides within a 10-mile radius of this town of 40,000 in the past year.

In the past year, six men between the ages of 17 and 27 have been found dead in apparent suicides in area.

Media reports have said Randall belonged to the social networking site Bebo and left a message on the site paying tribute to one of the dead men, 20-year-old Liam Clarke. He was found hanged in a park in Bridgend last month.

"We don't know if it is some weird cult or copycat suicides or if they have had some bizarre pact to kill themselves," Liam's father, Kevin Clarke, was quoted as saying by the Daily Mail newspaper.

Bridgend Police Superintendent Tim Jones said detectives were examining Randall's computer.

"The investigation will seek to establish the full circumstances surrounding these tragic circumstances (of Randall's death), and clearly communication between friends and associates is an important consideration," Jones said.

No Internet link found
Police said they had concluded investigations into the other six cases.

Coroners' inquests — required by British law when someone dies unexpectedly, violently or of unknown causes — have been held into three of the deaths, and found the young men committed suicide. The other inquests are pending.

While media speculation focused on the role of social networking Internet sites in linking the dead youths, coroner Philip Walters said he had found no such connection.

Britain's suicide rate has been declining since the late 1990s, according to the Office for National Statistics, although it varies widely across the country. It is higher in poorer areas than in affluent ones and higher in Scotland than in England or Wales.

Bridgend county, with a population of about 130,000, is home to such major employers as a Ford engine plant but also includes economically depressed former coal mining towns.

Walters said the suicide rate in south Wales had grown "year on year" over the past three years, prompting authorities to set up a group of police officers, educators and health care workers in response. In Wales in 2002-2004 — the most recent period for which full data is available — there were 22.4 suicides per 100,000 people annually.

The coroner said he found no link between the deaths near Bridgend and Internet social networking sites. "There was no mention of them in any of the inquests that have already taken place," he said.

Suicides 'too hyped up'?
Police said they were looking into Randall's online contacts as part of their investigation, but said there appeared to be no common link between the deaths. The young people may have known each other, police said, but were not a group of friends.

Rosemary Vaux of Papyrus, a charity committed to the prevention of youth suicide, said she feared media speculation about a rash of suicides would encourage other teens to take their lives.

There was a danger the story could get "too hyped up," she said. "Our charity is concerned that overt reporting could lead to a state of hysteria which could lead to further copycat suicides."