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‘The lost boys of Hebden Bridge’

From Anthony Rae

Saturday, 6 February 2010

Reading through Mark Piggott’s Times article - and then rereading the original Forum postings about Jez Lewis’ film, and the Independent on Sunday article - prompts a number of observations. But first of all a couple of qualifications: I haven’t seen the film, so what follows doesn’t relate to it and the fact that, as a piece of art it no doubt has a slightly disconnected relationship to the world it comments on; and secondly every death, from whatever cause, is of course a tragedy:

- Why are people not distinguishing between suicides on the one hand, and deaths caused or precipitated by substance abuse on the other? No doubt the wellsprings of both may have a common source - I’m not a social psychologist - but surely we would need to differentiate between the two categories if we wanted to do something about each. Firstly, on the suicide rate here, where Mark is apparently asserting that “Hebden Bridge has one of the highest suicide rates in England”, and upon which Dr Heys had some supporting but not conclusive evidence in the Independent article - although seemingly about Calderdale rather than Hebden in particular. So what is the truth? Have we definitively found out, and then started to develop any interventions? Maybe we could start by answering these questions, and then act on that information.

- The constant thread running through all these narratives is that of substance abuse, binge drinking and drug overdoses; indeed it was the death of a friend caused by a heroin overdose that first alerted Jez to the subject of his film. So many of the individually tragic deaths seem to be caused by drugs overdoses; and then there will be the developing but hidden epidemic of drink-related illness and premature deaths. Now I would say - and this relates to another topic on Hebweb at the moment (the debate about ‘Broken Britain?’ at the hustings on 2nd February) - if we live in a country which has notoriously high levels of almost every type of substance abuse compared to European levels, what would we expect to happen – in Hebden or anywhere?

There are (and I simplify grossly) two types of people: those who are sympathetic to substance abuse, implicitly or explicitly tolerate it, and maybe indulge themselves; and those who don’t (I’m in the latter camp). So if we don’t want people to die of substance abuse then maybe we should, by our actions individual and collective, take action against it: supportive of course, but also enforcing. Otherwise it’s just hypocrisy.

- Typically for the town this subject then resulted in an outpouring of self-analysis and self laceration about ‘the nature of our community’; maybe commendable but possibly also a distraction? All manner of wider causation - class, community separation, indifference, unemployment, housing etc - has been invoked, with the differences between decades evaporated. And I see that apparently I personally am partly to blame (“Here people are happy to … bring out the flaming torches and pitchforks when somebody proposes a new carpark. In the meantime my friends are dying and nobody raises an eyebrow!” said a posting to this Forum).

I’d prefer to see some facts established, and if then required some prompt interventions actually targetted directly at one or the other area. Secondly we should reflect on the conclusions of one of the participants in this narrative: “What you do with your life is up to you,” says Shaun. “It’s no good wallowing in victimhood; we make our own choices”. That applies to the individuals dragged down, but others as well. If we or you don’t want people to die in tragic circumstances, then look after your family and your friends.

And finally we should make sure there are the strong and well resourced Social Services and Youth Services in place to do the ‘intervening’. On Wednesday I went to a meeting in Halifax Town Hall to question the Leader of the Council about his group’s proposed budget for the next three years. One of my questions was about the adequacy of the budget to care for a particular vulnerable group (in this case, elderly people requiring home care; but the same point applies to child care). I was the only person at that meeting.

From Graham Barker

Sunday, 7 February 2010

Mark Piggott’s ‘The lost boys of Hebden Bridge’ seems more opportunistic than insightful. The lack of any reference to Jez Lewis’ film is perhaps a give-away - let’s not provide any clue about where the idea for the article might have come from, eh?

The introduction to the piece asks: ‘So why does picture-postcard Hebden Bridge have one of the highest suicide rates in England?’. But Mark’s article contains no evidence that it does have an exceptional suicide rate. The only thing approaching a statistic relates to Calderdale, not Hebden Bridge. If we have to go round the block again with this topic, can we please have some reliable evidence to chew over?

All Mark’s article really conveys is that people with a self-destructive lifestyle will occasionally self-destruct, whether by suicide, drugs or alcohol. That, unfortunately, applies to any village, town or city in Britain, and to any age group.

From Jill Robinson

Sunday, 7 February 2010

Both Mark and Jez have left the Hebden Bridge area - and survived, when it seems that sadly, many of their friends did not. How about more journalistic and artistic contributions from some of the almost-lost people who stayed and prospered? To show that being brought up in Hebden Bridge is generally not a death sentence, after all…

From Sutti N

Monday, 8 February 2010

Not another one trying to line their own pockets.

There seems to be a few links here. Both were not from Hebden, they moved in, then moved out again. There seems to be a lack of a father in their lives, and they both seem to think there is a strange saying between the locals about the dark, dark valley bottom. Well I have lived here many years and have only heard this saying from people who have moved into Hebden. Can I suggest they open their eyes and it will become lighter.

I think we have 2 choices here. We buy into these stories, then Jez and Mark donate all monies to help these poor kids living in the dark, or more likely don’t give them a penny.

Although I don’t have fond memories of most members of this gang, I think it is sick to try and line your own pockets with the sad death of your own so called mates.

I think we underestimate the lack of a father. It is not money the kids of Hebden need. It is time and attention from both parents, being married, living together or apart.

From Mark Piggott

Monday, 8 February 2010

Since The Times published my feature on Saturday I’ve had a huge response, some of it extremely positive, some incredibly negative and some of it fair criticism. Despite what many locals seem to think I did not set out to hurt anyone; merely to write as accurately as I could about my own childhood and the lives of my former friends.

Among other things, I really resent the suggestion that I’ve somehow “cashed in” on Jez’s film. For what it’s worth, here are the facts, all easily verifiable:

  • I’ve been writing about local social problems (real or perceived) since my first published letter to the HB Times in 1983;
  • My first published feature was “whatever happened to the hippies of Hebden Bridge” in 1984;
  • I wrote a major feature for the nationals about Hebden for the Guardian in the late 80s which was pulled at the last minute;
  • Since 1995 I’ve regularly tried to get the nationals interested in a major feature about the town, in which I’d talk about my own experiences and those of my friends;
  • I’ve had a number of other features published about the valley, not all negative, for instance my six-page feature on Acre Mill in the Telegraph (2007) and my feature about “Miss Rusty” in the Guardian last year.

As for my somehow jumping on Jez’s bandwagon, Jez approached me and interviewed me for several hours. He used a photo I took and I get a credit. It would have been pretty strange for me not to mention the fact that a major documentary is being screened about people I knew; when I went to the Times I said I wanted to see if the film was accurate or not. Many of my friends locally had complained that the film, and the “suicide central” feature in the Independent, were unfair; I wanted to find out whether this was true.

When writing my article I tried to make a clear distinction between suicide and accidental overdose. This distinction does appear to have been lost in the finished version. I also wrote that the distinction between oftcomers and locals is a false dichotomy, but newspapers aren’t generally keen on nuance. I can’t complain about this; I’ve worked for them for long enough.

None of the comments moaning about how negative my article is appear to have noticed that I also wrote in detail about the positive aspects in the town; the published feature closes on a positive and makes clear that Hebden’s problems aren’t unique.

For what it’s worth, when I checked the stats, the actual suicide rate in Hebden isn’t exceptional, but I didn’t receive a final breakdown of these stats till after the feature had “gone to bed”. However, as Jez says, it is amazing that so many young people died in the course of making his film, yet all anyone says is how lovely Hebden is – what’s the reality?

The Times eventually decided they wanted all references to the film removed, and so my article focussed on whether Hebden really was/is a good/bad place in which to be brought up.

One paragraph missing from the final version was:
“Is Hebden really the worst place on earth, as a youth claims in the film? Having spent 25 years in inner-city London, visiting estates like Kirkby, Grahame Park and Rathcoole, cities like Calcutta, Jakarta and Tijuana, I would say, Hell is in your head; impossible to escape. But on the other hand Hebden is not “suicide central”, or the world drug capital; it’s just a normal town with good and bad and inbetweenies. It’s not that it’s that much worse than anywhere else – (“a drug town with a tourist problem” as the locals put it); it’s that, despite all the incomers and USPs it isn’t that much better.”

For what it’s worth, I also wrote a much longer article which put in a lot more about my ambivalent feelings for the town. Some of my childhood was fabulous; some of my teenage years fairly miserable (whoever was to “blame”), and so of course some of my memories are tainted by these experiences.

I won’t apologise for leaving at 18 (I’d have thought most Hebdenites would be glad I left) and I don’t believe that means I can’t occasionally write about the town (I’ve also written about Liverpool, Belfast, Paris, Australia and of course London a great deal more). But I do know that many of my family and friends remain in Hebden and love it there, and all these years after leaving I think I can see why. And yes, I do know that not every young person in Hebden takes drugs and gets drunk, but to say as some have suggested that it isn’t a problem seems to me a somewhat naive view.

I know that the families and loved ones of the people who died are really upset at this new reminder of their loss and I am really, truly sorry about that. My intention was to present my friends (and yes, I did see them as friends) as real human beings, flaws and all, rather than faceless statistics. If I failed, I’m sorry. I must admit I was stunned by some comments on the Times website about their deaths, but I won’t dignify these with a response.

In summary, I haven’t jumped on any bandwagon; I’ve been writing about Hebden (along with homelessness, terrorism, health, housing, travel, to name but a few) for many years. Maybe it’s time to draw a veil over the past; maybe, as someone says elsewhere on this thread, it’s time for the valley’s many success stories to be heard. You don’t need to leave to succeed (whatever “success” means). Maybe more should be done to help combat addiction and poverty. Maybe I should just shut the hell up and stop writing about a place I hardly know anymore. But I’m certainly not the first writer to draw on his past - and for that, at least, I’m afraid I will not apologise.

From Joel B

Monday, 8 February 2010

Well said Mark, I for one found it really interesting reading. You are always going to get negativity with something like that, I understood every word, if you read the comments on the article, the true people from Hebden have been positive. Congratulations, I enjoyed reading it. Thought Sean’s piece was really good. Spoke to him the other day and he is thinking about writing a piece relating to the 80s and 90s, my era !! That would be some read. Well done again Mark.

From Dave H

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Mark states in his reply "when I checked the stats, the actual suicide rate in Hebden isn’t exceptional". And yet the lead headline in the article in a national newspaper clearly states "So why does picture-postcard Hebden Bridge have one of the highest suicide rates in England?".

In his reply, Mark said he didn’t receive the ‘final’ breakdown of figures until after the feature had gone to bed. Call me old fashioned, but isn’t that just sloppy journalism? Or is it a little more contrived and deliberate than that, making it sensationalism.

From Jez Lewis

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

I was not involved in Mark’s article so I’ll leave that to one side; I simply want to set the record straight on Sutti N’s extremely offensive assertion that I am using my film to ‘line my pockets’. I do not like having to do this publicly, but I feel I must. I personally funded 51 per cent of the cost of making this film, making my outgoings more than £70,000. In order to raise this money (I drive a car I bought for £600 two and a half years ago) I remortgaged my house and took out a massive bank loan. The film took two and a half years to make, during which time I have not received a single penny in pay or any other kind of remuneration. I remain massively in debt. The other 49 per cent was investment from Screen East. I am extremely grateful to them as the film could not have been completed without their support, but the fact is that it was investment, not a grant, and they would like their money back.

I made this film because people I love have been killing themselves for thirty years, all of them from Hebden, and I truly believe that it can help to raise awareness and promote change. I am trying to build bridges, not burn them.

The film’s only screenings so far have been in film festivals, which have been non-commercial - i.e. I get no money from them. Nobody in the film itself was paid a penny either. But some impression of local feeling from people who have seen it can be gained from this Facebook page.

Sutti N, I can understand that it’s natural to expect a film-maker to be paid, so I’ll try not to let it get to me. We probably knew each other at some point, but without knowing your full name I don’t know. If you’d like to speak to me about the film or anything else, just email me your phone number and I’ll give you a call. Hopefully a friendly chat over a pint in due course. I’ve read some of your various posts with interest and I can’t imagine you’ve seen the film as it seems our views have much in common, and some of your points are raised in it. I will be coming to Hebden with the film in about six weeks. I’ll post details as soon as I have them.

Best wishes to all,


From Jim M

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Dave H - it seems a pretty standard approach to journalism nowadays. Never let the facts get in the way of a good story or modify your prejudices. I find it very depressing that our public life is so driven in this way be the media.

From Emma S

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Jez, Mark, or someone, can we please have some accurate statistics with which to compare whether Hebden Bridge really does have a higher than average suicide rate? Without some reliable figures all debate around this is just opinion not fact.

From Graham Barker

Thursday, 11 February 2010

It would be good if Mark could cite the source of the statistics he has on suicide in Hebden Bridge. I don’t want to give the impression that I spend a lot of time studying suicide but I can’t find any online statistics broken down by postcode, which is probably the only way to get conclusive figures. The closest I got was a spreadsheet of official data titled ‘Local areas with the highest suicide rates in men aged 15 and over in the United Kingdom’.

Two tables cover the years 1991-2004. What becomes stunningly clear from them is that Scotland beats everywhere else hollow, so don’t go there if you’re a bloke. The only English areas to get into the 1991-97 UK top 20 are Hastings, Manchester, Barrow-in-Furness, Brighton and Hove, and Teesdale. Remarkably, the only English town to get into the 1998-2004 UK top 20 (at no 16) is Blackpool.

A footnote does point out that ‘Local areas with fewer than 10 suicides in this period [of six years per table] have been excluded’. Whether this would make Hebden Bridge more or less likely to influence the data I have no idea.

From Jez Lewis

Thursday, 11 February 2010

Hi Emma, Graham,

My film is not about suicide.

Nonetheless I have done a considerable amount of research into it, and my personal opinion based on this and my own experiences is that there is no such thing as accurate statistics on suicide. I have spoken to a coroner’s office, Calderdale and Kirklees suicide prevention officer, a leading academic researcher into suicide, the UK Department of Health, and read various books and journal articles. A very brief sketch of some reasons for the difficulty with statistics was given by an expert on Radio 4 just the other day - you can listen to it here (Anthony, this also touches on - though doesn’t answer - your question about distinctions between suicides and drug overdose deaths).

As well as the reasons outlined in the radio piece, there is the fact that suspected suicide goes under-reported to coroners in the first place and that suicide is often disguised (an example cited in the literature is that single-occupant, single-vehicle road accidents are thought sometimes to be disguised suicides). There are often practical as well as personal reasons for avoiding the term ‘suicide’, and for this reason I tend to try to avoid it myself.

In terms of Hebden Bridge, I can tell you that of the thirteen people I have personally known who have died one way or another by their own hand, all were from Hebden. This is despite the fact that I’ve now lived away from the town longer than I lived in it. One day during the filming an old college friend joined myself and a very close Hebden friend, Ste, for a coffee while I was fact-checking with Ste. After a while Ste said "I expect it’s the same everywhere". My college friend said "I don’t know a single person who has committed suicide or died of a drug overdose". Ste was stunnned and said "Don’t you?! I know about thirty". A few months later Ste’s nephew hanged himself.

As for myself, I grew up on Garden Terrace, and considered the L-shape it makes with Cliffe Street to be effectively ‘our street’. Taking that and the rest of Cliffe Street above - something around 23 homes in total - to my knowledge there have been five assumed or recorded suicides and a drug death among the people I lived there with. The academic researcher I spoke with told me that although uncommon this is not unheard of; along with the many others around the town, it is indicative of a suicide cluster, also called ‘suicide contagion’ (see "Suicide Clusters" by Loren Coleman for an early assessment of this phenomenon, available from Amazon).

Another piece of research which struck me as especially pertinent to Hebden was published in the BMJ: ‘Ecological study of social fragmentation, poverty, and suicide’, Whitley et al., 1999, concludes that:

  • Place of residence may affect health, and mortality from most common diseases tends to be higher in areas characterised by low socioeconomic position
  • Research dating back over 100 years suggests that social fragmentation may influence suicide
  • In the 1980s and 1990s, parliamentary constituencies with high levels of social fragmentation had high rates of suicide, independent of deprivation
  • Constituencies with the greatest increases in social fragmentation between 1981 and 1991 also had the greatest increases in suicide rates over the same period
  • Any targeting of suicide prevention may be more effective if aimed at socially fragmented rather than deprived areas

Graham, I lived in Brighton & Hove for over ten years without ever realising there was a high recorded suicide rate there, even though I was well aware of massive drug and homelessness problems. It was only when I tried to understand why so many of my Hebden friends had died by their own hands that my own researches also turned this up. It is amazing how shrouded this problem can be. Of course, these pieces of research assume a certain degree of reliability of the data, which as I have said I approach with caution.

Just to reiterate, though, my film is not about suicide.

By the way, I forgot to mention in my reply to Sutti N yesterday that in terms of money for local kids, I helped (unpaid) to raise the £68,000 lottery money used to rebuild the kids’ play area on Calder Holmes Park. I hope that counts for something - it meant a lot to me.

All the best to all,


From Peter Rowlands

Friday, 12 February 2010

For a while I wsn’t going to contribute. And then the discussion overhwhelmed me.

I lived in Hebden Bridge for 13 years. I taught secondary students in a very different community on the South Yorkshire boundary for 8 plus years. I have contributed to a book on suicide and bereavement. I have seen Jez’s deeply intelligent, painful snd extraordinary film

I simply don’t understand the terms of the debate in these columns. I have long held that self-intentioned death is not just the purposeful taking of one’s own life but also the witting continuation with lacerating self-harm through substance misuse and destructive behaviour. Why on earth do we quibble about the graduations of definition for suicide in the face of senseless deaths and deeply terrible loss?

Hebden Bridge may or may not be coloured by a greater number of suicides than elsewhere. The cruel fact is that there is a profile of displacement and despair and undue death that diminishes all of us... wherevere the community … and just for this moment we are talking about Hebden Bridge.

What is this arguement that says words cannot be written and images drawn together by people who earn a living? Neither the article nor the film are likely to make their authors wildly rich but even if it was so, why is that pertinent and not the tragedy before us and the challenge of a community rallying to responsibility?

How extraordinary the notion that people who move in or out of a town or county are somehow less entitled to see or say things. There is some very troubled and disquieting thought in that position.

The suggestion that people have a predisposition to self-destruct flies in the face of all the known notions about survival. What faces us here are the lives of people lacerated by circumstance and confusion, tragically lost in that cusp between growing older and finding maturity.

Hebden Bridge is not impugned by either Jez’s tender and agonizing film or Mark’s article. The challenge is in taking responsibility - for ourselves and for one another. (And sometimes, for a while, people have to be supported to take responsibility for themselves.)

The challege is to move from denial couched in criticism of statistics and definitions to a determination that other people’s lives are more carefully held.

And no it isn’t easy… I have worked a good deal of my life with people whose lives are fractured and in a ferment, and faced it in my family. Fulminating about the Calder Valley being besmirched is to miss the point entirely.

From Sutti N

Friday, 12 February 2010

Jez, I’m sorry if I upset you in any way. I only mentioned your name because something doesn’t seem right. Borrowing money, remortgaging a house and asking a film company to invest 49% into a film then saying, I am not expecting to make money, please help me understand. If you had come along and said you were expecting to make 15% or not even mention money I could understand.

I will admit to having no experience at all in the film industry but if the BBC had done this then I could understand it better maybe I am naive.

The main reason for posting was about Mark’s Newspaper article that honestly sent me sick when I read parts of it, some of which I thought he tried to glorify.

When I had my head used as a football by parts of this gang, forgive me but it is pretty hard to swallow when I think he is trying to make a living out of writing about his drug crazed past with this gang. I am also fed up with excuses I hear from all over the place about I only did it because I was high or drunk. If only they said I only painted that old ladies door because I was high and didn’t know what I was doing.

I feel sorry for anybody that has lost a loved one which ever way they died, but people are now getting upset and trying to explain their loved ones didn’t commit suicide they died this way or that, they shouldn’t have to feel they need to explain. It is the people that have not died that have to cope with life.

I do think Hebden has problems, but it is the people that live in Hebden, not the place. How do you think people coped when working in the mills 12 hours a day then living on the streets built for the mill workers? Ex PC Duggie Birmingham predicted this about 1980 when talking about drugs and people moving in with different ideas, principles, morals or what ever you want to call it, so maybe he is a good person to talk to?

From Dave H

Friday, 12 February 2010

I’m sure Mark can clear up a fairly fundamental issue for us here. The title to his National Newspaper article reads :

"So why does picture-postcard Hebden Bridge have one of the highest suicide rates in England?"

One of the highest suicide rates in England. That is quite a claim. And obviously, that data must have come from somewhere. By his own admission, Mark had been slowly putting this article together for a period of years. It’s not like the editor came to him at 2:00pm wanting a finished piece by 4:00.

So that really quite astonishing claim must have its roots in data from somewhere. The claim is a statistical one. The rates here are numericaly some of the highest in England when compared to almost all other areas. I mean, journalists don’t just make things like that up, right??

If it proves that this claim was essentially fabricated (which I’m sure it was not), I think The Times has a duty to print a retraction on behalf of Mark Piggot. Otherwise they are simply telling lies to make a story far more sensational than it is.

I am not for one second suggesting the suicide of someone from Hebden, Todmorden, Cornwall or anywhere else you care to mention isn’t tragic, needs investigating and should be avoided at all costs. But I am a firm believer that if you print a statistic such as that, there should be a firm foundation for it. I’m sure someone will enlighten us as to what that data source is.

From Jez Lewis

Friday, 12 February 2010

Hi Sutti,

I can’t quite follow your opening paragraph but thanks very much for the apology, which means a lot to me. Basically I set out to make a short film, say 15 minutes, which I thought I could manage on my own. Then Sam Jones died, quickly followed by several others, and my project snowballed. I felt a responsibility to continue. Over a pint or a coffee I will be more candid (no secrets, it just feels very public to talk about these things here). There’s also something I’d like to ask you in private if I may?

Sam’s Mum, Michelle, told me the same thing about Duggie Birmingham (who I knew only a little). If you have any way of contacting him it would be good to invite him to the screening when it happens.

From Shaun Hamer

Friday, 12 February 2010

Hello everyone!

Id like to start by saying that if we are going to have this debate, then the first thing we must pay attention to is the feelings of the families who have lost loved ones, or are being affected in any way by the issues being discussed. If we cannot find it within ourselves to pay at least this much respect then I think its best we keep our thoughts to ourselves.

Secondly, I’d like to say I am a friend of Jez Lewis and one person in particular who features in his film. I am also aware of how much time, effort and money he has invested in the making of his film and I believe he is truly trying to make a difference and for this he should be commended. However, it comes as no surprise that if you spend more than a year researching, interviewing and immersing yourself in the lives of people addicted to heroin and alcohol, that the view of the world you will encounter is likely to be rather dark.

I am also a friend of Mark Piggot and I think his piece in The Times is a very honest snapshot of his own experiences of living in Hebden some twenty or so years ago, whilst also being an attempt to put a human face to some of the rather vague statistics being bandied around. Personally, I find it regrettable that The Times chose to print "drugs were good for me" (not my words). For the record, I have never been addicted to hard drugs or alcohol and my knowledge of this subject is through association only. Reading through some of the comments being posted, one would think that all my friends are either dead or addicted to heroin. This is simply not the case. Only two of my friends have had issues with hard drugs and both are still alive and well.

As someone who was born and have lived all my life in Hebden I’d like to say, I know it as a place of beauty, a place I feel connected to and I know in my heart it is my home. So all this focus on some of the more destructive petterns of behaviour of a very small percentage of the population of Hebden Bridge leaves much unsaid about the truth of the place. When I hear terms such as "dark side" and "valley bottom fever" it only reminds me how different people’s perceptions can often be. Then to hear of the alleged high suicide statistics and the unstoppable Tsunami of drugs and alcohol I am reminded that I live in England in 2010.

Let’s be honest about it, you would have to be a monk or a fugitive to avoid either of the above anywhere in this country.

I am somewhat disappointed with the direction this debate is going. You see, when I was growing up I never felt the breath of those infamous "dark satanic mills" nor the black hole of depression that quietly waits to suck us in. In fact I don’t recall anyone born in this area ever these thngs. I’d like to suggest that people who move to Hebden and have no connection to the place, maybe, allow their view of the town to be coloured, even romantiscised by its industrial past.

It seems to me to be people who no longer live here who have this view of Hebden and its "dark side". Some of us stay here because we like it and it is our home. I still know Hebden to be a happy place, where the people who are willing to lend a hand vastly outnumber those who would rob you. (Hence the low crime statistics).

So let’s talk about drugs. To my knowledge there have always been drugs in Hebden but when I was growing up I never came across heroin or cocaine, plus we always knew the older generation was looking out for us. This all seemed to change with the onset of the acid house and rave scene. Class A drugs (mostly ecstacy) were being taken in increasing amounts. Coincidently, around the same time the film "trainspotting" was released. Which I believe glorified heroin use and made it cool and less frightening to the young.

There are many reasons why people start using hard drugs, peer pressure, rebellion, escapism, but some tragically are only guilty of trying to have fun. The circumstances that lead people down these paths are unique to each individual, and so any blanket treatment, condemnation or bad minded judgementalism simply will not work, just as the prohibition of drugs has never worked. Lets face the facts, alcohol and tobacco still kill vastly more people and ruin more lives than all other drugs put together. Alcohol in particular, unleashes huge social problems and it’s not just the alcoholic who has to suffer the consequences.

I’m afraid there just isn’t the time or the space here to recall all the fun and happy times and all the good friends I have met in Hebden over the years (sorry Joel, maybe later) but I can assure you they far outweigh any sorrows or pains we had to endure.

In conclusion, id like to say again it’s all about perception. Hebden is like any other place or any other thing in life. It is what you make it. It’s not where you are, it’s where you are at.

PS: re The Lost Boys.
For me personally, the lost boys number only three, three good friends who passed away in very different, and yet tragic circumstances (none of whom were drug addicts) the rest of us who are still here have found in varying amounts friendship, happiness, love and a place we call home.

Shaun Hamer (a lost boy? Apparently)

From Graham Barker

Friday, 12 February 2010

For information only: on page 55 of a downloadable document called NHS Commissioning Strategy 2008/9 - 2014/15 appears the following:

During the period 2001-2005, there were 116 suicides in Calderdale.

  • The suicide rate per 100,000 for Calderdale is 11.64. The rate varies widely by ward - 20.89 in Todmorden, 19.91 in Illingworth and Mixenden and 17.10 in Rastrick, being highest. In comparison the national rate is 9.66 per 100,000 population.
  • Deaths from suicide and undetermined injury in Calderdale vary greatly from year to year. In 1993 the rate per 100,000 population was 12.82, 13.04 in 2005 and 6.87 in 2006. There is no evidence to indicate that there is an overall trend reduction.

So the national rate is 9.66, compared to a Calderdale rate of 11.64. Thus, nowhere near 50 per cent greater, as Mark states.

And there is no mention of Hebden Bridge. At least three other parts of Calderdale had higher suicide rates for several recent years. The Todmorden rate alone is (or was) more than double the national average, though the second bullet point indicates that very local suicide rates may be unreliable anyway.

Unless Mark can cite different statistics, he may have got his sums, and his premise, very wrong.

From Jim M

Friday, 12 February 2010

Suicide is a awful thing - most of us will know someone who has been close to it. In my case sons of a work colleague and an acquaintance both killed themselves. Those left behind suffer untold traumas I can hardly begin to understand. It concerns me however when people link it to a ‘place’ without it seems a great deal of evidence.

Reasearchers at Bristol University have researched trends in suicide in young people to ‘investigate the recent observation that after year on year rises in the 1970s, 1980s, and early 1990s, rates in young men are now declining'. Thank goodness. The study can be found here.

The following is from the abstract.

“Since the 1990s, rates of suicide in young men have declined steadily and by 2005 they were at their lowest level for almost 30 years. This decline is partly because of a reduction in poisoning with car exhaust gas as an increased number of cars have catalytic converters; but there have been declines in suicides from all common methods, including hanging, suggesting a more pervasive effect. Other risk factors for suicide, such as unemployment and divorce, have also decreased. Possible recent reductions in alcohol use among young men and increases in prescribing of antidepressants do not seem to be temporally related to the decline in suicide.

“Conclusions: Suicide rates in young men have declined markedly in the past 10 years in England and Wales. Reductions in key risk factors for suicide, such as unemployment, might be contributing to lower rates”.

From Rev Tony Buglass

Saturday, 13 February 2010

A lot of this discussion seems to me to come from the different perceptions of different people. That doesn’t say they’re right or wrong, just that it looks differently depending on where you’re coming from. In my 30 years or so of ministry, I’ve buried a handful of suicides. There have been various reasons for their deaths. I haven’t had one since I came to Hebden.

The last one I did was a young man who hanged himself in Pickering, a little more than 10 years ago. Pickering is a broad, open pretty place compared to Hebden, which can feel squeezed into dark Pennine valleys. But a young lad there felt it was necessary to hang himself. The one before him was in rural North Northumberland, my first one was urban Tyneside. I say that to suggest that the problem is probably not Hebden Bridge, but other things happening to people in Hebden Bridge. And the only thing I can offer is compassion and care, to those who have died and whose lives I have celebrated, and to those who are left to pick up the pieces.

Any attempt to find one solution to the problem will fail. All of those who have ended their lives, either deliberately or accidentally, are individuals with their own stories to tell. I hope I will have an opportunity to see the film (can’t promise - other people have a way of filling my diary for me!). And I hope that if any of this comes my way, I’m able to give some support and help to those who need it.

Crap lands on all of us. Some are better equipped to dig themselves out than others. Those who cannot dig themselves out need the rest of us to do it for them, hopefully before it’s too late.

From Anthony Rae

Sunday, 14 February 2010

Many thanks to Graham Barker who has actually started to unearth some factual information about the suicide rate, which appears to be a little more hopeful than has been suggested. Graham has kindly provided me with a copy of the NHS strategy he has quoted from, and also tells me that he has made an initial contact with The Times newspaper to ascertain whether they can justify their headline.

Following Graham’s lead I have now contacted the Calderdale Primary Care Trust to ask the Executive Director of Public Health Graham Wardman whether he can provide information about the suicide rate specific to Hebden Bridge. When I have received his response I will let you know.

As an observation on the postings that followed my initial piece can I just add that I quite deliberately didn’t comment on the accuracy/validity of the film or newspaper article, or question the integrity of their authors. Whether they prove to be ‘accurate’ or not, narratives like these can always be informative. Newspapers on the other hand need to make sure they have checked their facts. Whether the Times or Independent met those standards is something we have yet to discover.

From Paul D

Monday, 15 February 2010

To me the fundamental weakness of the article is not the lack of evidence to support its assertions. What I find deeply depressing is that each young man’s life story is is focused on its end. There was so much more to all of these young men than the reasons for, and manner of, their deaths.

I also find it hard to understand that the author, who knew each one (to varying degrees it must be said) could ignore the richness of their lives: Gav’s energy, zest and passion; Swin’s depth, humanity and complexity; Bills humour and childlike reservoir of hope over experience - all of these were written over or written out of the account in favour of some spurious link between drugs, alcohol and geography.

One is left wondering what the purpose really was. The comments above, of care for the community and for individuals at risk, don’t seem to square with this manipulation of the dead for fiscal gain. Perhaps this is part of ‘moving on’ the willingness to spot an angle, to see an opportunity, to come back and take it. The only fact that matters in all of this is the one not stated - Lester got his cheque.

From Anthony Rae

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

At last! We are now able to establish the facts about the specific issue of suicide rates.

Graham Wardman, Executive Director for Public Health for Calderdale, promptly replied to my inquiry with the following information. The words are mine except when I’m quoting directly, although I am following his interpretation; but the figures are his so can be trusted:

  • As we already knew, the overall Calderdale suicide rate for the five year period 2003-7 (the latest figures available) was based on 98 deaths over the 5 years. Therefore, with such small numbers per annum, any analysis will not be statistically significant when considering a comparison between Calderdale and other local and national areas. We can continue to compare the annual figures we derive, but shouldn’t conclude that they necessarily provide a valid comparison. Of course, this is very likely to be a standard situation when analysing suicide rates where - we hope - the numbers inside any local population boundary will be small.
  • Comparing the Calderdale and UK rates: the Calderdale 5 year rate is 10.55 per 100,000 population compared to the England & Wales rate of 9.5; but because the analysis is not statistically significant, there is therefore no effective difference between the Calderdale and the E&W suicide rates.
  • Comparing the Hebden Bridge to Calderdale and the UK rates: “At the smaller geographical area, namely the Calder ward ( which includes Hebden Bridge), that ward rate ( 6.73 per 100000) is lower than the overall Calderdale rate [but this] is not statistically significantly different from either the Calderdale or England rate. It is also based on very small numbers of deaths (4) over the 5 year period.”

Again, not a statistically significant conclusion - by definition, because of the small numbers - but one that we can also set alongside the other ward rates that Graham Barker made available in his earlier posting from the PCT report (‘20.89 in Todmorden, 19.91 in Illingworth and Mixenden and 17.10 in Rastrick, being highest’. NB These are not precisely comparable with the Calder ward figure, being produced on a slightly different basis).

So now we can arrive at two statements (not statistically significant because by definition they can’t be) and relating to the 2003-7 period:

  • that the suicide rate in Hebden Bridge/Calder ward is lower than the Calderdale and UK average
  • and is considerably lower than in other parts of Calderdale.

And that should be a reassurance to us, the residents of the town.

But not for the journalists and newspapers that printed the following:

  • “So why does picture-postcard Hebden Bridge have one of the highest suicide rates in England?” The Times and Mark Piggott – 6th February 2010
  • “Why has Hebden Bridge become suicide central? Once an industrious oasis, Hebden Bridge became a hippie paradise in the 1960s and latterly a middle-class hotspot. So how did it turn into the suicide capital of Yorkshire?” Independent on Sunday and Lena Corner - 1st November 2009

Both of these statements are therefore not true; and not even remotely so. I wonder if the newspapers would now like to publicly retract, based on the evidence? Which I understand has already been made available to The Times.

And my thanks to Graham Barker and Graham Wardman in helping us establish the facts, and answer some of the questions in my original posting of 6th February.

From Sutti N

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Well done Anthony for helping us understand the real facts.

I’m still not sure whether The Times changed Mark’s article or it was Mark’s own views, maybe Mark could write his own unedited article for the Hebden Web?

I’m afraid Hebden suffers from a strange fashion craze. It boasts the mass movement of hippies into Hebden in the 60’s, most independent shops, lesbian capital of the north, first plastic bag free shops, wonky houses and now this sad, sad headline. Over the years I have travelled, and when people ask where I live they usually smile and refer to me taking drugs, being gay or being a strange sort of person.

If the powers that be want Hebden to be a tourist town then let’s focus on tourism, focus on the fantastic landscape around the town, let’s clean the place up, have a thriving market in the square and Lees Yard etc. Let’s give some hope to the younger people of Hebden. Hebden doesn’t need sensational headlines.

From Graham Barker

Saturday, 27 February 2010

I’ve made a formal complaint to the Press Complaints Commission about the Times Online article and the PCC has agreed to take it up. I don’t know what the timescale will be but I’ll keep Hebweb updated.

An earlier complaint direct to Times Online was fobbed off. Their reply to me ended with: “The Times does not engage in irresponsible and careless journalism and we stand by this article”.

From Jez Lewis

Monday, 1 March 2010

This recourse to official suicide figures is misleading and insensitive. There are many families grieving in and around Hebden. Just during the time I was making my film (April 2007 to September 2009) I was aware of eleven Hebden people ending their own lives, five of them seemingly deliberately. There was also the overdose that prompted my making the film in the first place, and another overdose immediately it was completed. Some of these people were friends of mine, all of them were somebody’s loved ones. I suspect none of them will be represented in the official figures for Hebden Bridge - of the five apparent suicides at least three did not take place in the town. But all except one of the thirteen people mentioned here were, for example, former pupils of Calder High School.

Whatever the figures say, it is conspicuous that (as I have said in my earlier post) every single person I have known end their own life was from Hebden. I simply can’t fathom the urge to deny the reality of this on-going human tragedy.

From Rev Tony Buglass

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Jez, nobody is denying any of the real tragedy of suicide. Statistics about other places or other deaths mean stuff-all when someone you love has died - that death is the only one that matters.

The debate is not with the issue you raise - why have so many from Hebden committed suicide? - as with the way the press have misrepresented it - why is Hebden Bridge the suicide capital of Great Britain? It isn’t. Not by a long chalk. This is loose and sensationalist publicity-seeking by editors wanting to sell papers by "shock horror" headlines.

I have dealt with many bereavements over my years in ministry, and several of them have been suicides. I never get used to it, and hope I never shall. But let’s focus on the real problems, if we can identify them, and not get distracted by misleading spin.

From Anthony Rae

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

In response to Jez - but first just a reminder of what I said right at the start of my original post (I haven’t seen his film, and secondly every death, from whatever cause, is a tragedy) so consequently I have refrained from any ‘criticism’ either of him, or Mark:

  • I think his argument that “This recourse to official suicide figures is misleading and insensitive” is for two reasons: because those figures will only record suicides that take place in the Hebden area, rather than which have ‘originated’ in some way here but actually occur elsewhere - so are not caught by the official statistics; and because he still seems to be relating the two categories - suicides and overdoses – to each other: “I was aware of eleven Hebden people ending their own lives, five of them seemingly deliberately” - although I’m not sure I fully understand the meaning of this sentence.
  • So what he is arguing is that there is a specific ‘Hebden’ factor that is inducing both suicides and (presumably) overdoses: “All except one of the thirteen people mentioned here were, for example, former pupils of Calder High School. Whatever the figures say, it is conspicuous that (as I have said in my earlier post) every single person I have known end their own life was from Hebden” Therefore the question is: what is that factor?
  • At this point let me apologise to Jez, because I didn’t see his second posting of 11th February (must have overlooked it) and the information it contained before I wrote mine of 16th February (so I wasn’t ignoring it). Because in its fourth paragraph he is indeed suggesting that there is (or was) a ‘suicide cluster’ or ‘suicide contagion’ active in Hebden Bridge - and even more extraordinarily, focused around just two streets! - and of course those of us who have been asking questions about these articles are mindful of this possibility; hence the need to establish the facts.
  • Now, this is a serious issue. We have claims of a suicide cluster (although Jez also says that ‘my film is not about suicide’. As I said, I haven’t seen it, nor will I on the 28th March because I’m away then), and also the continued separate/ related(?) issue of a claimed prevalence of overdoses - for which we have not established the statistics. Then there are other questions: assuming that either a suicide or overdose cluster existed in Hebden Bridge at a particular time in the past (some decades back), is it still there recently or now? All that I can do is to forward these questions to Graham Wardman, Executive Director of Public Health for Calderdale and await what he has to say.
  • But these questions, and this discussion, has - so far as I’m concerned - nothing to do with “the urge to deny the reality of this ongoing human tragedy”. Just the opposite.

See also:

The Times: The Lost Boys of Hebden Bridge (6 Feb 2010)

Independent on Sunday: Why has Hebden Bridge become suicide central? (1 Nov 2009)

HebWeb News: Shed Your Tears and Walk Away (Oct 2009)

HebWeb Forum: Shed Your Tears and Walk Away (Oct-Dec 2009)

HebWeb News: Let us not walk away. Let us walk together (Feb 2010)