Good Law Project is supporting a parent’s legal challenge against a Coroner for failing to investigate the impact of racist harassment on her teenage son’s suicide.
Dylan Lee, 19, from Stanley Crook, County Durham, tragically took his own life in May 2021, after he and his family had endured a persistent two-year campaign of alleged racially-motivated abuse by their neighbours because of their Romani Gypsy heritage.
Dylan’s mum, Jane Lee, believes her son took his own life because he felt hopeless after years of harassment, which the family felt the police never took seriously.
The inquest into Dylan’s death was carried out in August by HM Assistant Coroner for County Durham & Darlington, Mr Leslie Hamilton.
But during the inquest, the Coroner took a very narrow approach and decided it wasn’t open to him to consider questions about why Dylan did what he did. As a result, only part of Jane’s witness statement was read out – and the parts detailing the alleged harassment and police failings were not considered.
Witnesses from the local police force were called to give evidence, but Jane’s barrister was not able to question them about the matters that had been ruled off-limits.
Jane says the abuse began in 2019. She had just separated from Dylan’s father, and had to sell the family home to save money. The family moved into a static caravan on land Jane owned nearby in the same village.
Over two years, she says that the Lee family’s neighbours threw 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, and made malicious reports to local authorities. She believes that one neighbour even started a fire on their own property in a bid to incriminate the family.
Jane called the police more than 20 times over the two-year period, but says the campaign of hate did not stop.
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.
“Dylan was a caring, sensitive and thoughtful young man. He was quietly spoken, but not shy – he spoke when he needed to. He was extremely hardworking and mature for his age. He had an open, inquisitive mind and could pick up anything. He was a deep thinker and loved learning new skills. He always put others first, including his brothers, sisters and me.”
Jo Maugham, Director of Good Law Project, said: “People of Gypsy, Roma and Traveller (GRT) heritage across the country disproportionately experience bullying because of their race. It can have a devastating impact on their mental health. Tragically, Dylan could not see a way out.
“We believe the Coroner interpreted his role incorrectly. In cases of suicide coroners can, and should, consider why a person chose to take their own life. And where discrimination may have played a part, or authorities may have failed in their duty of care, it’s even more important that inquests grapple with these issues.
“We will fight alongside GRT communities to make sure what happened to Dylan cannot happen to other families.”