Family of Joe Nihill pay tribute and talk of campaign a year on from young Leeds man's death

It is a year on from the untimely death of Leeds man Joe Nihill. John Blow speaks to his family about their inspirational campaigning.

Joe Nihill with his mother, Catherine.

A tenacious urge to prevent the suffering of others is common to those grieving the untimely and unthinkable death of someone they dearly love.

For family members of Joe Nihill, it’s at the forefront of their mind in almost every waking moment.

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The former cadet from east Leeds who was 23, took his own life and was found dead by his mother, Catherine Adenekan, at their home one year ago today.

Catherine Adenekan outside her home in east Leeds. Picture: James Hardisty.

In the days after his death, his brother’s partner of 10 years and the mother of Joe’s nephew and niece, Melanie Saville, found out more about the online “suicide forum” which he had accessed while extremely vulnerable.

The continuing presence of these websites in the UK - and that in the words of a senior coroner that there is a “foreseeable risk that other individuals will be drawn into a deteriorating cycle by discussing methods of ending their lives” - horrifies the family.

But ever since Joe’s death they have been determined to see them banned.

They do not want other families to go through the preventable trauma of losing a son, brother, uncle and friend.

Joe Nihill's family described him as 'kind and caring'.

Speaking to The Yorkshire Post before the one-year anniversary of his death, Catherine paid tribute to Joe.

“He was funny. He’d do absolutely anything to bring a smile... He just liked to be happy. Always, always just fooling around.

“But then he had that kind and caring side to him - there was nothing he wouldn’t do for his family and his close friends. Well, for anyone, really.”

He was also something of “a geek” agree Catherine and Melanie with a laugh, who liked to collect Funko figurines, loved the Marvel superhero phenomenon Guardians of the Galaxy and the Star Wars franchise.

Catherine Adenekan and Melanie Saville. Picture: James Hardisty.

Music of various genres was another interest, “even down to Tom Jones,” smiles Catherine, 50.

For four years he was a member of the cadets in Seacroft, with whom he enjoyed weekends away.

He had also studied a course on computer security at Leeds Beckett University for some time.

Joe suffered a number of bereavements in the last years of his life. His grandfather Gerald died in December 2016. Subsequently his father Oluwafemi Adenekan died and his grandmother Mary passed away four months afterwards.

While the whole family grieved, they say there were personal issues which exacerbated Joe’s mental health and he became severely depressed.

He had been engaging with support services since January 2020, but the family say he did not have a single point of contact at the Becklin Centre, run by the Leeds and York Partnership NHS Foundation Trust.

Melanie adds: “He wanted to get better. He saw over 28 different staff members in three months.”

The Trust says that they been investigating the care Joe received and findings with be shared with the family and staff involved this month.

Joe was also sectioned, adds his family, and briefly stayed in a hospital.

He later lived back with Catherine, and on the night before she found him dead, he had kissed her goodnight and told her he loved her - a “usual thing,” says his mother.

After his death, an examination of his computer confirmed he had accessed a suicide forum.

Melanie, 28, said: “When I first found the website, it was the Saturday night after he’d just died and I was horrified. I couldn’t believe what I was reading.”

She showed Joe’s older brother, Arron - “his stomach turned” - and after suffering nightmares, revealed the news to Catherine but made her promise not to go on the site.

“I said, ‘You can’t go on here because it’s sickening’ and that’s being polite.”

When the family started to campaign in earnest for a ban last September, Catherine decided she had to see the forums for herself and, following this, both have accessed them with the sole intention of trying to get proper help to members who are suicidal.

They say that they are not successful in all of those situations.

Melanie adds: “The members that do speak out, or ex-members, say themselves it’s addictive. You get addicted to going on there, to reading things, you get drawn in, because you think these people are supporting you and they’re really not.”

Catherine says they remain in contact with a number of people who have previously been members of the site who are actively helping with the campaign.

“They can give the ex-members point of view whereas we can give the ‘we’ve lost somebody’ point of view,” says Melanie.

Kevin McLoughlin, senior coroner for the area covering Leeds, asked the Government to take action after Joe’s inquest in September last year, telling Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, that there was “a risk that future deaths will occur” if nothing was done.

Mr McLoughlin wrote in his letter that suicide forums “may be actively promoting” a particular method and “hence breaking the criminal law by assisting suicide”.

He added: “Consideration should be given to blocking their availability in the UK so as to negate this risk.”

Websites that engage in “discussions with troubled and vulnerable young men such as Joe Nihill serve to undermine the benefit of both the medical treatment provided to him and the constructive efforts of his family to restore his health,” he said.

“They have no social utility, but do have the potential to cause harm,” he added, saying that “it is counterproductive to permit such sites to bestow a legitimacy on self-harming behaviour”.

Mr McLoughlin told Mr Hancock that he was under a duty to respond with details and a timetable of action.

A response came in February this year from his department colleague Nadine Dorries MP, Minister for Patient Safety, Suicide Prevention and Mental Health, who noted the current Suicide Prevention Strategy for England and first Cross-Government Suicide Prevention Workplan.

The latter “includes actions to reduce access to means of suicide, including through harmful online content,” she said, also saying that from 2019/20, £57m is being invested in suicide prevention.

The Government did not respond to our request for a further comment on this story.

In correspondence with the family’s MP, Labour’s Richard Burgon, Minister of State for Digital and Culture Caroline Dinenage MP, has said that an online safety bill will be ready this year.

Mr Burgon - who is trying to secure a Parliamentary debate on suicide forums and has won the support of 52 MPs from seven political parties - says the bill would present a “golden opportunity” to change the law.

He says: “Legal change is needed. If we can achieve that this year it would be a huge testament to the tenacity of Catherine and Melanie and a great tribute to Joe Nihill, who was a popular young person in our area and who’s very sadly missed by a lot of people.”

Catherine wonders, more starkly, how many people might die during the wait for change.

Among those Joe left were his nephew called Cian, four, and a niece called, Clodagh, 19 months as well as his brothers are Arron, 30, Bradley, 26 and his sister Aylish, 16.

As Melanie says: “We shouldn’t have to be doing this - because he should still be here.”

Anyone in need of help can call the Samaritans for free on 116 123 or email them at [email protected].

'Findings due this month'

Cathy Woffendin, Director of Nursing, Professions and Quality at Leeds and York Partnership NHS Foundation Trust, said: “On behalf of the Trust, I would like to extend my sincerest condolences to the family and friends of Mr Nihill.

“We have conducted an investigation into the care provided to Mr Nihill and we have been in contact with his family throughout the process to ensure the review addresses their concerns.

“The full findings will be shared with Mr Nihill’s family and the staff involved in his care this month.”

The Samaritans stresses that suicide is preventable and “extremely complex and most of the time there is no single event or factor” that leads to it.