Content warning: This post deals with themes around suicide and may be triggering for some readers.
How liable are you for the death of someone you know who is about to suicide?
How liable are you for the death of someone whom you encourage to suicide?
Those are, it would seem, the two questions a UK court were forced to consider in the case of the death of Matthew Birkinshaw, a 31-year-old postman who suicided on the 17th of December, 2015.
The 17th of December, 2015, was also the date 44-year-old Natasha Gordon had planned to die. It’s just when the day rolled around and the suicide pact the two forged became reality, she never followed through.
It’s the makings of the most tragic kind of end, and one that has seen Gordon found guilty of encouraging the suicide of a man she met online.
After connecting just a day earlier on December 16, 2015, in an online forum to talk to others about suicide plans, they decided, within a matter of hours of meeting, that they would take their lives together.
The day before Birkinshaw took his life, Gordon messaged him, the BBC reports.
“I really can’t wait to go tomorrow, I hope you do not change your mind.”
According to Leicestershire Police, when the duo arrived at Rutland River – the place they had come to suicide – on the day of the 17th, Gordon had sent her boyfriend a message informing him of plans to end her life.
He then raised the alarm with police, who were sent to find her. When they arrived at the scene, Gordon had left Birkinshaw to go through with the pact. She did not inform them about him – as he lay just metres away – when they arrived at the scene.
It was only when she was home that Gordon disclosed to police the duo’s intentions when travelling to the area.
“Matthew Birkinshaw was a young man who had his whole life ahead of him and Gordon was a woman who quickly gained his trust by exploiting his vulnerability,” Detective Constable Michelle Preston said, according to Leicestershire Police.
“What became clear during the course of our investigation was that Gordon had tried to encourage others to take their own life. And we found evidence that she was attempting to engage two people in conversation about suicide shortly after being located by police in Rutland.
“The death of a young man in such circumstances is tragic, but Gordon’s blatant disregard for Matthew’s welfare that day is what has made this case even more distressing for all involved.”
The case is drawing parallels to a high profile case that came out of the US this year, where a teenager was sentenced to two years jail for encouraging her then-boyfriend to suicide.
Michelle Carter was 17 when she helped convince her 18-year-old boyfriend Conrad Roy to kill himself in July 2014.
Roy was about to go through with his plan, when he sent a message to Carter telling her he was afraid.
“Get back (to it),” she told him. It was the final blow in what had been a series of ‘you can do it’ messages talking Roy into suiciding.
This June, Carter was convicted of involuntary manslaughter. In August, the now 20-year-old from Massachusetts was sentenced to two and a half years in prison for assisting in the death of her boyfriend – but she only has to serve 15 months of that.
The preceding trial made headlines around the world both because of the strange nature of the young couple's relationship, but also because it was one of the first of its kind: The idea that you are absolutely liable for somebody's death without ever even touching them.
If you or a family member needs mental health support, Mamamia urges you to contact Lifeline on 13 11 14.