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Online app to help young people stay safe launched

Principal of boy who took own life hails new resource

By Allan Preston

Published 09/02/2016

Ronan Hughes
Ronan Hughes

The principal of a teen who took his own life has welcomed the introduction of a new phone app designed to protect young people on the internet.

Ronan Hughes - a pupil at St Joseph's Grammar in Donaghmore, Co Tyrone - was just 17 when he died last June.

He was being blackmailed online by a Nigerian criminal gang for £3,000 over intimate photographs.

The app has been developed by e-safety company Ineqe.

It's hoped it can educate pupils and parents about avoiding dangers while using the internet.

Today it will be officially launched at Strangford Integrated College, as well as St Joseph's.

Ronan's former principal Geraldine Donnelly welcomed the initiative.

"It's brilliant, the whole service," she said.

"We've been involved with the project since August.

"Online safety is a difficult subject and it changes every day. Having a resource that is very current and up-to-date is great to have."

She explained that the death of Ronan last year had a profound impact on the school and had focused it on keeping pupils safe online.

"We're very mindful, I suppose, of the need to take on board his parents' wishes, which was to do all in our power to keep children safe," she said.

"This is one way we can do it and promote the e-safety message and give people the tools and the skills to keep one another safe online."

Ms Donnelly said she was especially glad of the new app as previous guidance to schools in Northern Ireland had been confusing,

"There was, I'll be honest, an absence of supporting schools with materials and resources that were signed off by the Department of Education," she said.

"There were lots of different groups giving advice, but it was down to individual schools to test them and see if they were appropriate.

"That's a big ask because you don't want the wrong organisation delivering the wrong message.

She said she welcomed news that an e-safety strategy for Northern Ireland was due in early 2017.

The app is being launched to coincide with Safer Internet Day. Among the features are videos presented by students, with tips on safely using social media, avoiding bullying and keeping personal details safe.

Online safety expert Jim Gamble has been involved with the design. "It's very much about building a relationship with parents," he explained.

"It focuses on three areas: the pupil side, parents' side and the teachers' side. It recognises who you are and gives you tailored content. The app is designed to give you good, strong, practical advice. It will know you're a parent for example, it will direct you to advice on things like online bullying, 'sexting', child exploitation and grooming."

Mr Gamble said the app could also help pupils who may be scared to speak out.

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