Trigger warning: suicide, racist language
We want to tell you about a young man called Dylan Lee.
Dylan was a promising teenager from County Durham. He was a loving older brother, did well at school, and was thoughtful, sensitive and kind.
But while Dylan was finishing his A-Levels, his mum Jane tells us that their family were also enduring an intense campaign of harassment by their neighbours because of their Romani Gypsy heritage. After two years of persistent abuse, she says Dylan had lost all hope and could not see a way out.
Tragically, he took his own life at home in May this year. He was just 19 years old.
Jane tells us the abuse began in 2019. She had just separated from Dylan’s father and, as money was tight, she sold their home and moved the family into a static caravan on land she owned nearby in their village.
This single decision was enough to make the family a target.
Over two years, Jane says the neighbours threw shards of glass into their chicken coop, installed cameras pointing at the family’s land, started a petition to try to “rid the village of gypsies”, damaged their property, verbally abused and physically intimidated Jane and her children, made malicious reports to local authorities, and even started a fire on Jane’s land for which she was blamed.
Jane said: “I am of Romani Gypsy heritage. It is difficult to put into words how often you are treated differently when people find out. So many people have preconceived ideas and prejudices. My children were called ‘dirty gypsies’ and other derogatory terms in the playground.
“This treatment leads to anxiety and a sense of not belonging. You feel isolated and lonely. It is the cumulative effect and repetitiveness of this abuse that is so harmful and upsetting.”
Jane called the police more than 20 times over the two-year period, but says they did little to stop the campaign of hate.
Jane said: “I reported incident after incident to the police, but they consistently failed to act. We felt the neighbours were acting with impunity and we were powerless to stop them. Meanwhile, we were treated like criminals for living peacefully on our own land.
“Dylan was upset, anxious and furious. Dylan always believed in justice and accountability. If you did right by people, you would be OK. He trusted the police, believing that if we showed them what was happening they would make it stop. But they didn’t, and he couldn’t understand it.
“In my view, the cumulative effect of these incidents was the single biggest contributor to Dylan’s low mood and, ultimately, his death.”
But at Dylan’s inquest in August, the Coroner chose to take a narrow approach. He decided it was not within the scope of the inquest to consider the impact on Dylan of the alleged harassment, or the police’s lacklustre response to it. So, only partial evidence was considered on the day.
We think the Coroner interpreted his role incorrectly. In cases of suicide, coroners can – and in many cases should – consider why an individual took their own life. And when alleged discrimination is involved, or where authorities may have failed in their duty of care, it’s even more important that inquests grapple with these issues.
Good Law Project is supporting Jane’s legal challenge to compel the Coroner to re-run Dylan’s inquest, and investigate whether racist harassment and police failings may have contributed to his death.
Gypsy, Roma and Traveller (GRT) children across the country disproportionately experience bullying because of their race. It can have a devastating impact on their mental health and disadvantages them hugely in all walks of life.
We will fight alongside GRT communities to make sure what happened to Dylan cannot happen to other families.
Read the Pre-Action Protocol (PAP) letter, which launches legal proceedings, here.
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