The mother and father of murdered schoolboy Olly Stephens have urged the parents of teenage children to “take their phones off them” after warning how social media “played a massive part” in their son’s death.
Stuart and Amanda Stephens said they remain “broken” after the death of their “generous, caring and loving” 13-year-old son in January this year, when he was lured to a park in Reading and fatally stabbed over an apparent online dispute with fellow schoolchildren.
Asked what words of advice they would offer to parents of children their son’s age, Mr Stephens said: “Take their phones off them and don’t give them back.”
Mrs Stephens said she had “no idea” at the time how badly her son was being treated by others.
She said: “Keep asking questions, be suspicious, try not to be put off – you get batted away by your children, when you ask questions you don’t get answers.
“Just keep going until you feel comfortable and trust your gut reactions as well.”
Mrs Stephens added: “If you don’t like the sound of friends, there probably is a very good reason why.
“It’s very hard because we can look back and say, as parents, we did our best job, loved him to bits and always tried to be there for him and talk to him.”
Bike-mad Olly, who had autism, was “ambushed” at Bugs Bottom field in Emmer Green on the afternoon of Sunday January 3 after he had apparently sought to defend another boy who was being humiliated in a group chat.
The two boys, now both aged 14, were convicted of murder following a trial, while a 14-year-old girl, who convinced Olly to go to the park as part of the set-up, pleaded guilty to manslaughter.
All three were sentenced on Friday and cannot be named for legal reasons.
Olly’s attackers left him with stab wounds to the chest and back after a short scuffle at the scene.
The younger boy, who was 13 at the time, used a knife to stab Olly while the older boy was fighting with him, the trial at Reading Crown Court previously heard.
Jurors were told they had shared several messages on Snapchat in the days leading up to Olly’s death, which demonstrated hostility towards him.
The girl said in one message to one of the defendants: “Karma – he (Olly) deserves all of this.”
The older boy also said: “I actually hate the kid with a passion – if I was to see him right now I’d probably end up killing him.”
Mr Stephens described his son’s killing as “absolutely cold”.
He said: “There was no thought for anybody else in this.
“There’s no thought for Olly’s life, there was no thought for the repercussions of what was gonna happen.
“And the consequences they were going to pay just didn’t seem to register with them.
“It’s very difficult to understand. And we still don’t understand – we’re still in disbelief.”
He added: “I think social media’s got a lot to answer for and played a massive part in Olly’s death.”
Mr Stephens recalled how he detected Olly was troubled by something in the days prior to his murder, and pleaded with his son to confide in him.
“I said to him: it’s my job to protect you, you need to tell me what’s going on,” Mr Stephens said.
“I just couldn’t get it out of him – ‘Snitches get stitches’ is all he’d say.”
Mr Stephens added: “I would say to him: don’t get into a fight – if you get into a fight, walk away, run away, so we can deal with it later.
“There seems this whole gangster mentality is seeping in … like they believe this is a video game.
“That’s how they see it, because I have heard that they now earn points for damage they do to other people with weapons.
“So it’s a scary situation, it really is.”
Mr Stephens said the word “devastating” did not adequately describe his family’s grief.
Olly’s mother added: “We’re broken. You know you’ve got to keep going and you do keep going, but the joy is gone.”