For three years, Kelly Yeomans endured taunts of “fatty.” Her teenage tormentors threw salt in her lunch and dumped her clothes in the garbage. Last week, they pelted her house, first with stones and finally with butter and eggs, the ingredients for cake.
The chubby, sweet-faced 13-year-old told her parents she couldn’t stand the abuse anymore. While they slept on Sunday night, she took a fatal overdose of painkillers.
Police arrested four neighborhood boys and one girl, ranging in age from 13 to 17, and say more arrests are possible. However, the arrested youths were not charged with any crime and were released without bail.
Even in a country where bullying is commonplace, Yeomans’ death came as a shock and the media have given wide coverage to the tragedy.
“She was a bubbly, charming little angel who would do anything for anybody,” said Ivan Yeomans, Kelly’s father. “We were just an easy target, and they are cowards, but I hope they can sleep at night after what has happened.”
Yeomans lived with her parents and 16-year-old sister Sarah in the working-class Allenton neighborhood of Derby, 130 miles northwest of London. She played the tambourine in the local Salvation Army band and visited elderly patrons at its Allenton center.
But her sister said Yeomans was regularly teased about her weight and was abused at school and in her neighborhood.
“We tried to help her over the bullying she got,” her best friend, 15-year-old Marie Porter, told The Guardian newspaper Wednesday. “She didn’t talk about it much, but they didn’t let her alone.”
Neighbors said a gang of up to 15 youths gathered outside the family’s house for several consecutive nights last week. They attacked the home several times, throwing a block of margarine through the window, shouting abuse about lard and fat, and calling her “smelly.”
“It was after that Kelly told us: ‘Mom and Dad, it’s nothing to do with you, but I can’t stand it. I’m going to take an overdose,”’ said her mother, Julie Yeomans.
But, her mother said, she and her husband never thought Yeomans would kill herself. They knew only that she was depressed.
Michael Shaw, head teacher at Merrill College, the high school that Yeomans attended, said Wednesday that she had complained about bullying at school only once - after the salt incident in February 1996.
Last week, she told a teacher her family was being tormented, and the teacher suggested they contact the police or a lawyer, he said. It was unclear whether they had done so.
“We take bullying very seriously,” Shaw said, “and all cases are dealt with swiftly, appropriately and thoroughly.”
Shaw said those arrested were not schoolmates of Yeomans.
Prime Minister Tony Blair’s Labor government has launched a campaign against bullying in schools, including a leaflet for parents on what to do if their children are bullied - or are bullying others.
Pauline Hasler, director of the Anti-Bullying Campaign, said such harassment is widespread in Britain. Ten people die every year as a result of bullying, she said, and the campaign’s hot line receives 16,000 calls annually.
In Yeomans’ case, Hasler said, there appeared to be a lack of communication. “She couldn’t take the pain any more, and she couldn’t see the light at the end of the tunnel.”