‘There was actually an issue about how many youngsters to expect,’ admits her 45-year-old mum Gabbi.
‘We knew some pupils from her school wanted to come, but then we discovered that kids from other schools were sending out plus-one invitations online, treating it like an event. That was stopped. There were still lots of young people, though.’
The presence of her daughter’s true friends provided ‘much, much comfort’, Gabbi admits. But her feelings about some of the other attendees are more ambivalent.
For Izzy, a gifted pupil who had ambitions to go to Oxford University, had taken her own life after complaining she could no longer cope with being bullied, both at school and online.
Not long before her suicide, she wrote a heartbreaking poem about her ordeal.
She called it I Give Up, and it reads:
‘They begin to tell me that nobody wants me there. They tell me to leave and that I am not wanted.’
Devastatingly, it concludes: ‘Another piece of me chiselled away by their cruel remarks and perceptions. I give up.’
Many, if not all, of the youngsters present at the service would have been aware of Izzy’s torment.
She had fled a Spanish lesson in tears the day before her death when the jibes and sniggers — ‘the usual stuff’, says her mother, bitterly — got too much.
Some of those who arrived to mourn her were directly implicated in the bullying, says Gabbi. One was a leading perpetrator.
‘Some of the bullies stayed away from the funeral; some didn’t,’ she says. ‘This particular girl was a ringleader, yet she was one of the first people to step forward to hug me. I was in too much of a state to do anything other than accept it.’
It is only six weeks since Izzy died, and Gabbi’s grief is as raw as it gets. She was a single mother; Izzy was her only child.
She was ‘my daughter, my best friend, my everything’, says Gabbi.
She asks to do this interview in St Albans, where her own mother lives. It later transpires she has not been back to the family home in Devon since the night she ran from it, hysterical, after finding Izzy’s body.
Their other possessions are in storage, save for Izzy’s diary, which was taken by the police as evidence.
Izzy’s grandmother tells me that Gabbi hasn’t been alone since Izzy died; she even sleeps in her mother’s bed. At night, she wakes up screaming ‘leave my baby alone’.
But Gabbi’s anger is as strong as her devastation, hence her insistence on going public with Izzy’s story.
In the weeks since Izzy’s death, some of her classmates — ‘not the ring-leaders but the ones who joined in the ganging-up, which I actually find more difficult to forgive’ — have attempted to apologise, but this has only added to Gabbi’s pain.
She says: ‘One girl got in touch to say she was sorry if their silly jokes had led to this. Silly jokes? It wasn’t silly jokes. It was sustained, relentless, cruel bullying, and she could not escape it.
‘Izzy would come home and sob in my arms. They called her “ugly”, “freak”, “frigid”. If she put her hands up in class, she’d be labelled a “swot” and they’d snigger at her, or make crude comments.
‘They’d exclude her from events, tell her to go home, she wasn’t wanted. They’d turn their backs on her, literally.
‘When she did come home, it didn’t stop, because it doesn’t, these days. They name-called her by text, then online. She’d log onto Facebook and get abuse. Then onto that awful site Ask.fm [a website in which users post anonymous comments on each other's profiles], and be subjected to filth.
‘Some people will say, “Oh that’s just teenagers today”, but I don’t accept that. It was more than we should expect any teenager to cope with, and in the end my daughter couldn’t.’
Gabbi is angry not just at the bullies and their ‘complete lack of compassion and humanity’, but at the teachers at Izzy’s school. Some ‘who should have acted and didn’t’ were even at the service, she says.
She reveals that while Izzy ‘adored’ many of her teachers, they failed to tackle the bullies, even though they’d been told what was going on.
Gabbi claims she had contacted the school, Brixham College, at least 15 times in the months before her daughter died, complaining about the name-calling, teasing and the ostracising.
‘But every time I rang, I felt I was an irritation. You could hear it in their voices, as if they were rolling their eyes and going, “Oh, not her again.” ’
Gabbi, who was a teacher herself, so is more aware of anti-bullying responsibilities in education than most, last phoned to discuss the problem on September 16 — the day before Izzy died. She had come home in a terrible state, claiming she had been told off for bursting into tears in class.
‘It beggars belief,’ she says. ‘My daughter gets upset in class because she is being bullied — and she is the one who gets into trouble? I got through to the headmaster himself that afternoon and pleaded with him, yet again, to do something.
‘If he couldn’t get the ringleader out of that class, which he’d promised to do previously, could he at least bring her parents in to discuss it? He said he couldn’t because he had “no evidence”. Well, the next day my daughter hanged herself. How much evidence did he need?’
There has not yet been an inquest into Izzy’s death, so there is no proof that she took her own life because of bullying, and perhaps there never will be. Suicides are rarely that simple.
Yet you can’t read I Give Up, the poem she wrote, without seeing it as a glaring cry for help. Gabbi read it just weeks before Izzy died. She says: ‘It is my biggest regret that I didn’t heed the alarm bells.
‘I knew she was distressed. She kept saying she couldn’t take it any more. But not once did I consider that she would do what she did. It sounds so stupid now, but in my head I thought she wasn’t quite at breaking point because her grades hadn’t slipped at school. She was a star pupil until the day she died.’
One particularly distressing thing about Gabbi’s story is that she appears to have followed all the rules about how to react if your child is being bullied — alerting the school, and offering love and reassurance to her daughter. Yet she is still living every mother’s nightmare.
The photographs she pulls from her bag today are striking in their sunniness. Izzy was beautiful. Gabbi says their life — ‘until all this started’ — was, too.
Gabbi always knew she was going to be a single mum. Her relationship with Izzy’s father, Eugene Conway, ended before Izzy was born, which led to a particularly intense mother-daughter bond.
‘I loved being a mum,’ she says, managing a smile. ‘It wasn’t easy, bringing her up on my own, but Izzy was the loveliest child: clever, thoughtful, kind. Yes, when she hit her teens she could be moody and we had our moments, but overall she was a joy: bright, opinionated, fun.
‘She wanted to be a journalist. She was very articulate. If she was here today, she’d do a much better job of this than me.’
Izzy was always aware of her father’s existence, and ‘knew she could meet him when she was ready’. She did, in fact, meet him not long before she died, although her mother insists this did not cause her to become depressed.
‘If anything, I was more fazed than she was. She was curious about him, and took it in her stride,’ she says. ‘They met once, then would talk on the phone. I don’t know how much of a relationship there was going to be there, but she was open to the idea of it, I think. There was no hint of upset about it.’
Although Izzy was born in the UK, she and Gabbi moved to Australia in 2003 and Izzy grew up in Darwin. She thrived at school and was a popular pupil. ‘Academic strength is seen as a good thing by other pupils there,’ Gabbi says, pointedly.
Two years ago, they moved back to the UK to be closer to family and settled in Brixham. Izzy was excited about the move, and at first loved her new school. Yet the bullying started very soon, first over her accent, then her ‘swottiness’.
Gabbi says: ‘She was called Australian Freak, then Boffin — which wasn’t a compliment. The other kids would take the mickey out of her because she said she liked astronomy. They’d laugh at how she talked to the teachers — politely.’
Did Izzy want to be popular? ‘Terribly. She did everything to try to fit in. She used to wear a skirt that was just above the knee but they called her frumpy and frigid, so she begged me to buy her shorter ones.’
Gabbi was appalled when some of the unpleasantness developed a sexual edge. In the playground one day, she says, Izzy was approached by an older boy who told her, “I have a 12 inch c*** and I’m going to put it in you.”
‘I complained to the school about it, twice. I was told the boy had been dealt with, but it was shocking — to me and to Izzy. She was quite upset.’
Because she was having such a hard time settling into her new school, Gabbi agreed that when Izzy turned 13 last year she could get a Facebook account. This opened a whole new can of worms.
‘The bullying just started there, too. “Friends” from school would message her, saying the same sort of things. It was general name- calling — “you are ugly; you are a slut” sort of thing.
‘And boys she was starting to get interested in would ask her to post naked pictures. There is a game called “body part for body part”. The first time it happened, six months before she died, Izzy came to me, really upset by it because she had thought this boy was genuinely interested in her.’
When Izzy asked to join a website called Ask.fm, a Latvian-run site on which users can post anonymous questions, “because everyone at school was on it”, things got even more worrying.
The website, which has around 70 million users, was implicated in the suicides of bullied 15-year-old Joshua Unsworth and 14-year-old Hannah Smith earlier this year.
‘It is an appalling site because it is completely anonymous. We suspect that some of the vitriol she got on there was from people from school because the language was so similar, but we have no way of knowing for sure,’ Gabbi says.
‘Izzy showed me how it worked, and I was horrified. Once she was asked, “Do you shave your c***?” then, “What kind of panties are you wearing?” I told her she had to shut down her account immediately.’
While Izzy could leave Ask.fm, she could not shut down her contact with the bullies at school.
In June of this year, a trip to a local music festival — one Izzy had hoped would convince the other girls that she was as cool as them — ended in tears.
‘They told her to go home, she wasn’t welcome. She came home and sobbed her heart out. Then she wrote that poem.’
On the day she died, September 17, Izzy herself had a meeting with her headteacher — the one who’d told her mother there was no ‘evidence’ of bullying.
The outcome? ‘They talked about how she felt so isolated at breaktimes and lunchtimes and had nowhere to go to escape the bullies. The head said she should go home and “brainstorm” some ideas about running a lunchtime club for younger pupils.’
When Izzy came home that night she was ‘low’.
‘She seemed tired and a bit cranky. We had words because I wanted to watch The Great British Bake Off and she didn’t. But there was nothing to suggest she was going to do what she did.
‘I remember she painted her nails — she was so meticulous about how she looked — then went up to her room and did her homework, had a shower, got her bag ready for school, laid out her uniform.
‘I popped in and we had another chat about how the bullying was getting on top of her. It was nothing we hadn’t done 100 times before, and I’d always give her the talk about how she was stronger than the bullies.
‘Then I went downstairs while she got ready for bed. I had a cup of tea and a cigarette — she hates me smoking so I did it outside. I was gone 15 minutes, tops. In that 15 minutes my life was destroyed.’
When she came back inside, Gabbi went back upstairs to see if Izzy was getting into bed, but the bedroom door did not swing back as usual.
‘Something was blocking it, and it was Izzy,’ she says, and breaks down completely.
Her description of the hours that followed is too awful to relate in detail, but she managed to get her daughter’s body down and dial 999, then ran hysterically into the street. Neighbours tried to revive Izzy while she ‘just took off’.
‘It’s all a blur. At one point I ran into a car. A police officer had to restrain me.
‘I remember him saying, “I am so sorry to have to do this” as he got me to the ground.’
But in all the horror, there were moments of pure human compassion that have stayed in Gabbi’s memory.
‘I found out later that there was a policeman assigned to the house. He could have stood guard at the front door, or outside Izzy’s bedroom door. There was no requirement for him to be in the room.
‘But that man sat on the floor for two-and-a-half hours holding my daughter’s hand, even though she was already dead. I can never thank him enough for that, because it should have been me there with her. I should have gone back.’
That officer was also at Izzy’s memorial service.
‘He told me he will never forget her,’ she says. ‘My job now is to make sure no one else does, either.’
Gabbi has made a formal complaint to the board of governors at Izzy’s school, and has called for the Government to ban Ask.fm.
A spokesman for the Brixham College Board of Governors said yesterday: ‘We are aware that a letter has been received from Izzy’s mother. As this is currently a matter for the coroner, we do not feel it appropriate to make any comment at this time.’
But what Gabbi really hopes, though, is that young people like Izzy — and the teenagers who bullied her — will read her story, and ‘think for a minute’.
She tells me she has supported the setting up of a Facebook memorial group in Izzy’s name and intends to lobby for greater action to be taken against bullies, and for more support in schools for those targeted.
‘My daughter isn’t the first teenager to kill herself because of bullies, but I would like her to be the last,’ she says.
‘She would have been the first person to speak out about injustice. She was a member of Amnesty. She wanted to change the world. Maybe she still can.’
Culled from Daily Mail