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Brianna Ghey’s mum says mobile phones should be made specifically for children under 16 to protect them from online harms | UK News

The mother of murdered teenager Brianna Ghey has said mobile phones should be made specifically for children under 16 to protect them from online harms.

In an interview with Sky News’ Sophy Ridge, Esther Ghey added that tech giants and mobile phone companies need to “take more responsibility for children’s welfare”.

She also believes the Online Safety Act, introduced by the government in October 2023, doesn’t go far enough and called for more “drastic measures” to protect children.

Ms Ghey’s daughter Brianna, 16, was stabbed 28 times by Scarlett Jenkinson and Eddie Ratcliffe, who were 15 at the time of the attack, after they lured her to Culcheth Linear Park in Warrington, Cheshire, on 11 February last year.

Brianna was described as an anxious and vulnerable teenager, with Ms Ghey believing this was partly because she spent a lot of time on her phone.

Brianna Ghey
Pic:Cheshire Police
Brianna Ghey was killed by two teenagers in February 2023. Pic: Cheshire Police

Ms Ghey also believes Brianna would still be alive if her teenage killers had been unable to access violent content on both the dark web and the regular internet as they plotted the murder.

Asked whether she believes there should be a ban on mobile phones in schools, Ms Ghey said it would be too difficult to enforce and there are “already so many pressures on teachers”.

However, she added: “I would like to see mobile phone companies, tech companies take more responsibility for children’s welfare… I’d like to see mobile phones specifically made for under 16s where they can’t access social media sites in the first place.

“Also, I’d like there to be a link to the adult’s phone, to the parent’s phone.

“There is already software available because schools are using this kind of software that can flag up concerning words, so that if a child is searching what Brianna’s killers did, then it would flag up instantly to the parent’s phone and then they will be able to take action.”

Esther Ghey, the mother of murdered 16-year-old Brianna Ghey, attending a vigil in Golden Square, Warrington, to mark the first anniversary of her daughter's death. Picture date: Sunday February 11, 2024.
Esther Ghey attended a vigil in Warrington last weekend to mark a year since her daughter’s death

Calling on the government to do more to protect children online, Ms Ghey said she is “willing to speak to the experts and to the regulator (Ofcom) and just see what we can do”.

“I think it’s important to have these discussions and to see what we can do moving forward,” she said.

Ms Ghey has also met with the father of Molly Russell, who died from self-harm after viewing content related to suicide online, and is “really hoping to work alongside him to try to push for a change”.

Molly’s father Ian has campaigned for better protections against potentially dangerous social media algorithms since his daughter’s death in 2017.

In a wide-ranging discussion with Sophy Ridge, Ms Ghey also repeated her wish to meet Jenkinson’s mother.

She said she would like to “see how it was for her”, adding: “And if she had the same struggles as what I had with Brianna. And just to see what life was like as a family, really.”

Read more:
Hundreds attend vigil for Brianna Ghey
Minister calls for ‘respectful language’ after PM’s transgender jibe
Family of one of Brianna’s killer’s ‘truly sorry’

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From 11 February 2024: Brianna Ghey’s mum Esther says ‘hug your children tight’

Ms Ghey has reached out to Jenkinson’s mother but said she has not yet had a response, adding: “Hopefully we can meet in the future.

“If we do, it will be a very private and personal thing for both of us.”

Ms Ghey said she doesn’t blame the parents of Jenkinson and Ratcliffe for Brianna’s death, adding: “I know how hard it is to monitor what your child is doing and to safeguard them and to keep on track of everything that they’re taking in online.”

She also said she felt the judge’s sentencing was correct and believes her daughter’s killers will “never get out of prison”.

Ms Ghey added: “I think that Scarlett is very dangerous to society. And I think that her behaviour since being found guilty has also been very concerning. And I think that prison is definitely the best place for her.”

Brianna was transgender, with the Judge Mrs Justice Yip saying during sentencing that she took into account the “transphobic hostility” expressed by Ratcliffe before Brianna’s death.

Scarlett Jenkinson and Eddie Ratcliffe
Scarlett Jenkinson and Eddie Ratcliffe have been jailed

Asked if she felt the fact her daughter was trans played a role in the killing, Ms Ghey said: “I think in Eddie’s case, it was a contributing factor. But I do think that Eddie is a hateful boy anyway, but, yeah, it definitely was (a contributing factor).”

Jenkinson was jailed for at least 22 years and Ratcliffe for a minimum of 20 years. They will be transferred to adult prisons when they turn 18.

Judge Mrs Justice Yip said both will remain in prison until they “no longer present a danger” to the public.

Ms Ghey said she would like Brianna’s “lasting legacy” to be improved mental health for young people and mindfulness taught across schools in England.

She added that practising mindfulness herself had helped her have the “mental resilience” to cope with her ordeal since her daughter’s death.

Transgender children could be ‘forcibly outed’ under new proposals, charities warn | UK News

Transgender children will be “forcibly outed” under the government’s draft guidance on gender identity in schools, according to a coalition of charities.

A joint statement by a group of organisations including Mermaids, Stonewall, and Amnesty International UK, said the guidance “seeks to deny the existence of transgender pupils, discouraging them from coming out and being their authentic selves, and could lead to young people being forcibly outed to parents and teachers”.

The long-awaited draft guidance was issued in December, and offered proposals for schools and colleges in England on how best to support pupils who are questioning their gender.

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‘I socially transitioned at school’

It said “parents should not be excluded” from decisions taken by a school or college relating to requests for a child to “socially transition”, or in other words, a child who wishes to change their name, pronoun or their clothing.

‘A risk of significant harm’

Exceptions are allowed in “rare” circumstances “where involving parents would constitute a significant risk of harm to the child”.

It also said teachers and staff should “not be required” to adopt the child’s chosen pronoun, and should not have to accept all requests for social transition.

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Trans golfer on hatred after tournament win

But the charities have said the proposals will “erase decades of progress in making schools places that value difference and reject discrimination”.

They want ministers to withdraw the guidance and “rethink” their approach, and some of the signatories have published their own guide for those responding to the consultation, advising “schools and colleges should only engage with parents with the explicit consent of the child or young person in question”.

‘Lots of individual interpretation’

When the Department for Education guidance was published before Christmas, Sky News heard from schools and parents with experience of children questioning their gender at school.

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‘Pronouns are a matter of respect’

Kevin Sexton, executive headteacher at Chesterfield school in Liverpool, said the draft guidance offers a “pragmatic pathway” advising schools, though still left “lots of areas” for individual interpretation.

But one parent who we called Carrie, to protect her identity, spoke of her “scary” experience as the school her child attended changed her child’s name and pronouns without consulting her.

Read more:
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Headteacher says he’ll make his own policy on transgender issues

Mother battles schools adopting child’s preferred gender ‘without consent’

In response to today’s statement, the department told Sky News: “All schools are expected to follow official guidance over advice from special interest campaign groups. Once the official guidance is final, we expect that schools follow it.

“This guidance will support schools in making decisions which are in the best interests of their pupils.

“Our draft guidance reflects the law, which schools have a duty to follow. It takes a parent-first approach and prioritises children’s safety and wellbeing, whilst recognising that treating children as though they are of the opposite sex can have significant psychological effects on a child.”

The guidance is currently open to public consultation until 12 March.

H&M pulls school uniform ad over complaints it ‘sexualises’ children | UK News

H&M has pulled an ad for school uniforms after it was accused of sexualising young children.

The ad featured an image of two young girls in pinafore dresses with the slogan: “Make those heads turn in H&M’s Back to School fashion.”

The primary school-aged girls are pictured looking into the camera over their shoulders.

The fashion giant has now pulled the ad and apologised.

H&M said: “We are deeply sorry for the offence this has caused and will look into how we present campaigns going forward.”

Social media users expressed their concern about the ad, with one describing it as “H&M sexualising children” and another labelling it “inappropriate”.

One wrote: “What the hell is going on? This is sickening, sexualising kids.”

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Why golfer who won PGA Tour event won’t get prize of over £1m

Mumsnet founder and chief executive Justine Roberts said: “Mumsnet users have long been concerned about a sexualised culture creeping into the lives of children – which is why we launched our Let Girls Be Girls campaign in 2010.

“It’s disappointing to see that, 14 years later, retailers are still creating inappropriate adverts that prematurely sexualise young girls.

“While we’re pleased that H&M have accepted their mistake and removed the advert, it really should never have been created in the first place.

“Our users would love to be reassured that they’re taking steps to ensure everyone at H&M is crystal clear about the issue so it doesn’t happen again.”

Children find dead dog in suitcase in Airdrie | UK News

The Scottish SPCA is appealing for information after a group of children found a dead dog stuffed inside a suitcase.

The youngsters came across the purple-wheeled holdall in a wooded area in Airdrie’s Alexander Street, North Lanarkshire, on Sunday 12 November.

The suitcase was partially wrapped in a child’s pink fleece top.

Emergency services were alerted following the discovery of the dog’s body.

The white and tan Staffordshire bull terrier cross was said to be male and around three-years-old.

He was found wearing a black leather collar with a silver and gold dog on it.

The Scottish SPCA is urging anyone with information to come forward.

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XL bully dog owners can register for exemption ahead of ban

Inspector Robyn Myszor said: “He was found by a group of children in a wooded area and the police were contacted.

“We are appealing for anyone who has seen someone with this particular holdall within the area around that time.

“If anyone has any information surrounding the circumstances, they should call the Scottish SPCA confidential animal helpline on 03000 999 999.”

Mother found dying from stab wound by her two children in Greater Manchester | UK News

A mother who was found dying from a stab wound by her two young children in Greater Manchester has died.

Perseverance Ncube, 35, was discovered with a single wound to her chest before being taken to hospital where she later died of her injuries.

Greater Manchester Police (GMP) said a 45-year-old man had been arrested by officers on suspicion of murder and remains in custody after fleeing the scene.

Officers were called to reports of a woman found with serious injuries on Dukesgate Grove in Little Hulton, near Salford, at around 2.40 am on Friday.

The force said its inquiries indicated Ms Ncube was known to the suspect and it was a targeted attack.

She ‘lived for her children’

Her family said in a statement: “It is with immense pain that we say goodbye to Perseverance Ncube, also known as Percy to her loved ones.

More on Greater Manchester

“She was a loving and devoted mother who lived for her children, family, and friends.”

They added: “Percy had just celebrated her 35th birthday in October, and her passing has left us with an immeasurable sense of loss.

“Our focus now is on supporting her children as they continue their journey without their mother.”

‘Horrific attack on a mother’

Detective Chief Inspector Gina Brennand of GMP’s Major Incident Team said: “We are in the early stages of our investigation, and an experienced team of detectives continue to work extremely hard to understand a comprehensive timeline of events that will help us piece together what has happened earlier this morning.

“This was a truly horrific attack on a mother, witnessed by her two young children and we really need the public to come forward and give information to us that may be able to assist our enquiries to find answers for them.”

GMP is appealing to motorists and residents in the area who may have captured dashcam, CCTV or doorbell camera footage to get in contact.

Government under pressure over ‘ghost children’ missing from class | Politics News

The government “remains committed” to legislate to establish a register of pupils who are not in school, the education secretary said.

It comes after criticism that the King’s Speech on Tuesday, which set out the legislative agenda for the year, did not include anything about the plan to reduce the number of so-called “ghost children”.

As Sky News has reported, since the pandemic there has been a rise in the number youngsters who have stopped going to school.

Often this is pupils who have been excluded from the classroom and then fall out of the system – making them vulnerable to being targeted by gangs.

Making an intervention as Education Secretary Gillian Keegan opened a debate in the House of Commons, Lib Dem MP Munira Wilson said: “What was crystal clear from the King’s Speech yesterday is despite her [Ms Keegan’s] grandiose statements here, education is not a priority for this government.”

Ms Wilson asked why there was no announcement “about bringing forward legislation for a children-not-in-school register” – something ministers promised they would still do after scrapping the Schools Bill last year.

The education secretary said that remains the government’s position – though she did not say when the plans would be brought before parliament, only saying it would happen at a “suitable opportunity”.

“We do remain committed to legislating to take forward the children-not-in-school measures and we will progress these at a future suitable legislative opportunity,” Ms Keegan said.

“We are continuing to work with local authorities to improve the non-statutory registers. And we have also launched a consultation on revised elective home education guidance.

“So there is work going on, the consultation is open until January 18, 2024. So there is a lot of work going on and we do intend to bring forward that legislation.”

Read more:
Thousands are missing school
The ‘ghost children’ crisis explained
Absence in schools is now at crisis point

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Excluded teen stabbed in Croydon

The law requires all children of school age to receive suitable full-time education, but last year 141,000 children spent more time out of class than in – up by 137% since the pandemic.

Local councils blame funding problems for not being able to keep track of missing pupils well enough.

Last May the government launched a piece of legislation known as the Schools Bill, which promised to raise standards through a series of measures including the creation of local authority-administered register for children not in school.

However, come December it was scrapped, with ministers insisting they were committed to its objectives despite not taking the legislation further.

Speaking in the Commons, shadow education secretary Bridget Phillipson paid tribute to Sky News “for being relentless in pursuing this issue”.

She said persistent absenteeism means we are now on track for two million children to be regularly missing school by 2025.

She said: “That’s one in four of our children. There is no greater failing by this government than standing by as more and more children are missing from school for days on end, term after term, a lost generation of children missing from England’s schools.”

Ms Phillipson earlier told Sky News that if she becomes education secretary after the next election, she will “take action to make sure our children are supported, that every day in school matters”.

She said that would mean: “More mental health support, with mental health hubs in every community, improved access to mental health support within our secondary schools, and alongside that for our younger children, universal free breakfast clubs to support children with a softer start to the school day, and also wider help for families during what’s a really difficult time with the cost of living crisis.”

Meanwhile, Andy Cook, chief executive of the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ), a centre-right think tank, warned the crisis could have far-reaching consequences for society.

He told Sky News: “You go into any prison and you talk to the people there, 90% of them say they missed a lot of school on a regular basis. So we need to take this seriously.”

Six children in hospital after car crash in Oxford – as five teenagers arrested | UK News

Four children have been seriously injured after a BMW being driven “erratically” collided with their family car on the outskirts of Oxford, police say.

Another two children sustained minor injuries. All six are being treated in hospital.

Officers said they tried to stop the BMW, which was being driven at high speed along the city’s eastern bypass at 11.10pm on Tuesday.

The car carried on going, however, and five minutes later it collided with a VW Touran being driving along The Slade in the Headington area, east of Oxford city centre.

The driver of the Touran was left with minor injuries, while the children’s ages have not been confirmed.

Five teenagers, all from Oxford, have been arrested on suspicion of causing serious injury by dangerous driving.

Three of them were also arrested on suspicion of failing to stop, driving a vehicle whilst unfit through drugs, and driving a vehicle dangerously.

One of the three, aged 18, is in custody while the other two, both 19, have been bailed.

Two further suspects, aged 18 and 19, have also been bailed.

Detective Inspector Justin Thomas, from Thames Valley Police’s Serious Collision Investigation Unit, is appealing for information, plus dashcam or CCTV footage.

He said: “Our thoughts are with the family affected and specially trained officers will continue to support them throughout this investigation.”

The force has referred itself to the Independent Office for Police Conduct watchdog, which it says is the “procedure in these circumstances”.

Paedophiles using AI to ‘de-age’ celebrities and ‘nudify’ fully clothed children | Science & Tech News

Thousands of AI-generated images depicting child abuse have been shared on a dark web forum, new research has found.

About 3,000 AI images of child abuse were shared on the site in September, with 564 depicting the most serious kind of imagery including rape, sexual torture and bestiality.

Of the images, 1,372 depicted children aged between seven and 10 years old, according to research by the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF).

The charity said the most convincing images would even be difficult for trained analysts to distinguish from photographs and warned the text-to-image technology will only get better – making it harder for the police and other law enforcement to protect children.

Some images depict real children whose faces and bodies were used to train the AI models, which the charity has decided not to name.

In other cases, the models were used to “nudify” children based on fully clothed images of them uploaded online.

Criminals are also using the technology to create images of celebrities who have been “de-aged” to depict them as children in sexual abuse scenarios.

More on Artificial Intelligence

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Online victims write to tech bosses

‘This threat is here and now’

Ian Critchley, the National Police Chiefs’ Council lead for child protection in the UK, said the generation of such images online normalises child abuse in the real world.

“It is clear that this is no longer an emerging threat – it is here and now,” he said.

“We are seeing children groomed, we are seeing perpetrators make their own imagery to their own specifications, we are seeing the production of AI imagery for commercial gain – all of which normalises the rape and abuse of real children.”

The UK’s impending Online Safety Bill is designed to hold social media platforms more responsible for the content published on their platforms.

But it does not extend to the AI companies whose models are being altered and used to generate abusive imagery.

The UK government is hosting an AI safety summit next week that aims to address the risks associated with artificial intelligence and consider what action is needed.

Susie Hargreaves, chief executive of the IWF, said new EU laws on child sexual abuse should cover unknown imagery.

“We are seeing criminals deliberately training their AI on real victims’ images who have already suffered abuse,” she said.

“Children who have been raped in the past are now being incorporated into new scenarios because someone, somewhere, wants to see it.”

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‘We don’t understand how AI works’

Politicians ‘caught asleep at the wheel’

Ellen Judson, head of the digital research hub at Demos, the think tank, said: “Once again, policymakers have been caught asleep at the wheel as generative AI continues to radically transform the nature of online harms.”

She called for the government to “get on the front foot” in their understanding and regulation of AI tools, specifically around how they are designed and developed.

“Waiting for the next crisis to occur before responding is simply not a sustainable approach,” she added.

A Home Office spokesperson said: “Online child sexual abuse is one of the key challenges of our age, and the rise in AI-generated child sexual abuse material is deeply concerning.

“We are working at pace with partners across the globe to tackle this issue, including the Internet Watch Foundation.

“Last month, the home secretary announced a joint commitment with the US government to work together to innovate and explore development of new solutions to fight the spread of this sickening imagery.”

Man and two young children die in collision between car and lorry | UK News

A man and two young children have died after a collision between a car and a lorry in Leicestershire.

Officers were called to the crash on the A5 in Hinckley near Burbage shortly before 4.30pm on Friday.

The male driver of the BMW car, who was in his 30s, and a nine-year-old boy who was a passenger were both pronounced dead at the scene.

A woman in her 30s and a four-year-old girl, both passengers in the car, were taken to hospital where the girl died a short time later.

The woman remains in hospital in a serious but stable condition, Leicestershire Police has said.

The driver of the lorry was not seriously injured.

East Midlands Ambulance Service and Leicestershire Fire and Rescue Service also attended the scene.

Read more on Sky News:
Terror suspect who escaped prison captured
Police detain family members of girl found dead in Surrey

Detective Constable Anna Andrew, from the serious collision investigation unit, said: “This is an extremely sad and tragic incident, and our thoughts remain with those who have lost their lives, their families and with others involved and who have been affected.

“Emergency services attended the scene and we know members of the public also assisted at the scene when the collision happened – thank you to everyone who responded and helped in these devastating and extremely distressing circumstances.

“We are continuing to provide full support to the families of the people involved and to investigate the collision to establish the full circumstances in relation to what has happened.”

The force has appealed for dashcam footage and for witnesses to come forward.

Highest number of children with speech and language challenges ever recorded, report says | UK News

One in five primary and secondary aged children are estimated to be behind with their talking and understanding of words, a new survey by a charity suggests.

Speech and Language UK says this is the highest number of children with speech and language challenges ever recorded.

The report, based on a survey of teachers, also found that:

• 80% of teachers think children in their classroom are behind with their talking and/or understanding of words
• 73% of teachers surveyed think that children’s speech and language is not prioritised by the government
• 53% of teachers don’t believe they have enough training to support pupils’ speech and language in the classroom

The charity’s chief executive, Jane Harris, said: “That really shows us that what schools, nurseries the government are doing at the moment isn’t enough to help children to have the futures they deserve.”

She warned about the dangers of letting children fall behind.

Speech and Language UK charity chief executive, Jane Harris
Charity chief exec Jane Harris says not enough is being done to help children ‘have the futures they deserve’

“Teachers and teaching assistants can do an awful lot to help children. We also need the NHS to recruit enough Speech and Language Therapists so that children who have lifelong speech and language challenges get that specialist therapy that they really need.

“Without that extra support, these children are likely to fail in English and maths, they’re also likely to end up with mental health problems, they’re more likely to end up out of work, and they’re more likely to end up in the criminal justice system.”

Read more:
Children ‘struggling with talking and understanding words following pandemic’

Viral Bhundia’s son Jay is in nursery. He says the family played guessing games when Jay’s speech had not developed.

“If he wanted something he would scream, and it was up to us to kind of decode it and figure out what he wanted. Slowly, with different techniques, we were able to see… Does he want a cup? Does he want water? Initially it was a bit difficult.”

Father Viral Bhundia
Mr Bhundia says his son has now reached expected levels because of specialist support

Mr Bhundia explains that moving to another London borough helped get Jay specialist support.

“Because of the support we’ve had he’s reached the level that we expect him to be, but I know many other parents probably haven’t had that support and it’s quite difficult for them,” he told Sky News.

Jay’s nursery director blames lockdown and its effects.

“A lot of parents were keeping their children at home even after the country started to open up,” said Jennifer Lewis, director of Smarty Pants Nursery in east London.

“Communication was often done through things like laptops, iPads, tablets, whereby children watching a lot of things online.”

“It’s important to actually communicate with your child… actually talking to them, not just having something where they’re watching just on screen.”

Read more from Sky News:
More schools with structural problems could come to light
Schools made with certain type of concrete forced to close

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “We are conscious of the effect the pandemic has had on pupils’ education which is why we have made almost £5bn available for education recovery.

“Two-thirds of primary schools have benefitted from our £17m investment in the Nuffield Early Language Intervention, improving the speech and language skills of over 90,000 children in reception classes over three years.”