Joshua Unsworth was just 15 when he killed himself after, allegedly, being subject to vicious internet bullying. His heart-breaking suicide was covered extensively in the press, including the Mail on Sunday, which reported that the teen had been ‘bullied to death by trolls on the internet’.

article-2303566-190F7982000005DC-946_634x401The very same day that the MoS reported the hounding of Unsworth, it embarked on some teen bullying of its own, turning the full force of its not inconsiderable firepower on someone not much older than Unsworth, pillorying her as foul-mouthed, boastful, racist and homophobic.

The teen in question was 17 year-old Paris Brown (above), the now ex-youth police and crime commissioner (YPCC) for Kent. As has been widely reported, Brown resigned after the MoS published a series of her particularly brainless tweets, and her own constabulary launched an investigation into her for racism.

Brown’s comments about ‘pikeys’, ‘illegals’ and ‘fags’, are not easy to defend. And I don’t really buy the line from some commentators that these are just the daft things that typical teenagers say. I reckon you’d have to have a fairly low opinion of teenagers to believe that (surely, only those who take their political cues from the likes of the Mail would think it OK to refer to travellers, immigrants and gay people so insultingly).

However, even before Brown’s comments came to light, the Mail had reported her appointment with a characteristic mix of fury and derision. ‘She’s not even old enough to vote, can’t drive and only left school last year [Yes. She’s a teenager!]… As well as her salary, Paris will be given a desk [A desk? She’ll be wanting a chair next…], a telephone and official car – with her own emblem.’

Like much of the media, the Mail rarely has a good word to say about teenagers, who are mainly portrayed as overindulged, feckless or dangerous. The whole notion of the introduction of police and crime commissioners was controversial and has been treated with (at best) scepticism by the press from the outset. It was, therefore, entirely predictable that the first YPCC would be subject to intense and probably hostile media scrutiny. For all her idiocy, Brown has been badly let down by the adults in this scenario.

In the first place, where the hell were her parents when she was tweeting this offensive garbage? (The same parents who were happy enough to be quoted in the initial coverage of their daughter’s appointment, saying how proud they were of her.) Second, why didn’t her employers do more to protect her? Are they really not media savvy enough to realise that, within minutes of Brown’s name being announced to such a controversial post, some journalist somewhere would be most likely be trawling the internet to see what dirt they could dig up about her on Facebook or Twitter? To put someone so young (Brown was 17 the day her appointment was announced) into the media firing line without doing even the most basic checks seems an extraordinary dereliction of duty.

Instead of protecting her, Brown was allowed to be served up on a plate as a the tabloid’s cartoon version of a teenage girl: foulmouthed, ignorant, binge-drinking, drug-taking and promiscuous. (It’s probably worth mentioning here that what the MoS describes as Brown’s ‘vile drug tweets’ (see below) appear to consist of one particularly fatuous quip about wanting to make ‘hash brownies’.)

We’ll never know if Brown would have made a decent fist of being Kent’s YPCC, but we do know there is a job to be done in improving relations between young people and the police. Research into the 2011 riots showed that stop and search is still a source of huge resentment among many young people which skews their attitude towards police. Teenagers are disproportionately likely to be victims of crime, yet invariably treated as offenders (or potential offenders). Crimes against young people are massively under reported. The British Crime Survey didn’t even start recording offences against under-18s until 2009. For any urban teen, mugging – often by people around their own age – is a day-to-day hazard, which is rarely reported or even recognised by the victim as a crime. (Although, my own experience suggests that police treat teen-on-teen mugging seriously, regardless of how little was actually stolen.)

By appointing Brown, Kent’s elected police and crime commissioner, Ann Barnes (below, left), showed admirable commitment to meeting the needs of young people (not least because she was contributing £5,000 towards Brown’s salary from her own pocket). Barnes has insisted publicly that she intends to appoint a new candidate, but it would now be a brave teen to put themselves forward (and a reckless parent to let them).

article-2306335-193316C5000005DC-411_634x469Like all good bullies, the MoS doesn’t give up easily once it has a victim in its sights. Despite Brown’s tearful apology and subsequent resignation,  it continued its onslaught against Brown again this week. Accompanying a story challenging Barnes’ claims about how long ago the offending comments were made (‘Paris was 16 when she wrote vile sex and drugs tweets. So why is her ex-boss insisting she was only 14?’), the MoS took the opportunity to republish the worst of Brown’s comments, along with a photo her sobbing at the press conference. The picture shows Brown clutching a sodden tissue and what looks for all the world like a toddler’s security blanket (although to be fair it could just as easily be a scarf).

No doubt Brown has learned a hard lesson. She’s certainly not the first person to come a cropper after tweeting inadvisably – just ask the likes of Sally Bercow and the usually sanctimonious George Monbiot – so let’s hope this horrible episode won’t have completely extinguished the ambition that made her want to be YPCC in the first place.

However, the suicide of Joshua Unsworth is just the latest reminder that teens can be intensely vulnerable to bullying and may lack the resilience of someone older. Having won Brown’s scalp, the Mail and the rest of the media should now do the adult thing and call off the dogs.

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