Molly Russell viewed depression-related Instagram post before taking her own life, court hears

Molly Russell
Molly Russell

Molly Russell used her phone to browse Instagram for depression-related images just before she took her own life, an inquest was told on Wednesday.

The 14-year-old from Harrow, north London, died in 2017 after spending months struggling with depression and anxiety while viewing self-harm and suicide material on social media sites, chiefly Instagram and Pinterest.

Ian Russell, Molly’s father, has previously accused Instagram - owned by Meta, formerly known as Facebook - of “helping to kill” his daughter just six days before her 15th birthday.

Following five years of delays, an inquest into her death at North London Coroner’s Court began hearing evidence on Wednesday as it seeks to establish if Molly was “overwhelmed” by the content she viewed.

Mr Russell, 59, told the inquest he had started combing through his daughter’s social media accounts in a desperate attempt to understand what had driven her to suicide.

He would go on to uncover a “horrifying” cache of images she had saved, including self-harm injuries and quotes reinforcing feelings of worthlessness or justifying suicide.

Molly, he subsequently discovered, was never even asked to provide her date of birth when she signed up to Instagram at the age of 12.

Police analysis of her devices found she had last used her iPhone to access Instagram at 12.45am on November 21.

Two minutes earlier, at 12.43am, she had saved an image on Instagram which read: “The worst thing depression did to me was take my intelligence. Feeling yourself getting dumber and dumber is absolutely painful.”

Oliver Sanders KC, representing the Russell family, said: “Within an hour, or maybe two hours, she was dead.”

She was found dead in her bedroom by her mother at around 7am, the inquest was told.

Ian and Janet Russell outside the Coroner's Court in Barnet - Jeff Gilbert
Ian and Janet Russell outside the Coroner's Court in Barnet - Jeff Gilbert
Molly Russell
Molly Russell

The extent of her personal torment had not been known to her parents. They had only noticed she had not “been herself” for most of that year, with her father telling police she had become “quiet and withdrawn”.

Mr Russell told the hearing that his journey into the depths of Molly’s online world had taken such a toll on his own mental health he had to stop looking at the posts.

“It’s just the bleakest of worlds, you are surrounded by images that deal with this bleak, shocking, horrifying world,” he said.

“It’s a ghetto of the online world that, once you fall into it, the algorithm means you cannot escape.”

The more Molly interacted with social media posts that “normalised, glamourised and even glorified dangerous behaviours”, the more she would be automatically fed such posts through the algorithm of the platforms, Mr Russell told the hearing.

He warned that, despite the significant publicity surrounding Molly’s death, children were still in danger of being exposed to the same graphic material on social media.

Mr Russell told the court: “Sadly as recently as August of this year I have seen some similarly horrific content on platforms and particularly Instagram, so whatever steps have been taken are not effective enough and people are still in danger.”

As well as Instagram, Molly was an avid user of the image-sharing website Pinterest, which sent her “jaunty” emails packed with more depression and suicide content, according to Mr Sanders.

They continued to arrive in her inbox after she died.

One such email, received more than a fortnight after Molly’s death on December 7 2017, was headed by large letters saying: “New ideas for you in Depression”

Underneath, it continued: “We found some (images) we think might be right up your alley.”

There then followed more than a dozen pictures featuring bleak quotes and images, including one that said: “I’m not afraid of the dark, I’m more afraid of not finding the light once again.”

Suicide notes found in Molly’s bedroom echoed the type of language used in the social media posts, the inquest was told.

Mr Sanders said: “They were romanticising the idea of self-harm, romanticising the idea of suicide - this is something that is for people who are deep, that are different.”

An analysis of Molly’s phone by police also found that she was an “avid fan” of an American YouTube star called Salice Rose who has spoken about suicide and depression.

“It is also maybe relevant that Miss Russell died either on the birthday of Salice Rose or just after,” said a report by Michael Walker, the specialist investigator who carried out the analysis.

The family were said to “strongly believe that Molly’s act that night must have been impulsive” as she had behaved normally that evening and it would have been “against her nature” to have planned her suicide when her sister’s 21st birthday was the next day.

At the outset of the inquest, Mr Russell provided a “pen portrait” of Molly which included tributes her friends had paid at her funeral.

He said: “It’s all too easy to dwell on the events that led Molly to end her life. It’s all too easy to forget the person she really was: someone full of love and hope and happiness, a young person full of promise and opportunity and potential.”

“Molly was a positive, happy, bright young lady who was indeed destined to do good. Her life mattered and her place in the world will remain as important as it always was.

“Although her story is not the one any of us would have chosen to tell, and it is different to the one she would tell herself if she were still here, it will be just as powerful and influential.

“For those who knew Molly. Never forget the adorable young woman Molly was. Never forget her caring nature. Never forget how great a friend Molly was to so many.

“For everyone touched by her story, remember there’s always help and hope. Remember to live long and stay strong as Molly wished.”

Meta has been granted “interested person” status in the inquest, meaning it will officially legally take part in the proceedings in what is thought to be a first for the tech company in the UK.

Pinterest confirmed it was the first time it was acting as an interested person in a UK inquest.

The inquest continues.