The mother of Archie Battersbee, the 12-year-old boy who died in August after his life support was switched off, wants a coroner to consider what role exposure to TikTok videos may have played in his death.
Archie sustained a catastrophic brain injury on 7 April at his home in Southend, Essex, when a ligature was found over his head. His mother, Hollie Dance, believes he was injured as a result of taking part in an internet challenge known as the “blackout challenge” and wants the inquest into his death to scrutinise how social media may have contributed.
Dance and Archie’s father, Paul Battersbee, fought a lengthy and high-profile – but ultimately unsuccessful – legal battle against Barts Health NHS trust to prevent Archie’s life support from being switched off. She is now switching her attention to the circumstances of his injury and wants TikTok to be made an interested party in the inquest, which would mean the tech company could be called to give evidence.
Dance, 47, said: “Archie had the TikTok app. In the last few weeks [before his injury] he kept making out he was dizzy, that he could make himself pass out. He’d never caused me any alarm by putting anything around his neck or anything like that so this was a very new thing. For him to all of a sudden start that at the age of 12 years old, he’s seen it somewhere and the only thing I can think of is TikTok.”
Written submissions to the coroner by Dance’s new lawyers, seen by the Guardian, say that Dance believes Archie was “influenced, persuaded or peer-pressured online” into taking part in the blackout challenge and that the matters raised are “of real and important public concern”. They also refer to a 2008 report, before TikTok was created, by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which found at least 82 children had died in the US in similar circumstances. Dance’s lawyers, Simpson Millar, want Archie’s electronic devices to be handed over by Essex police so they can be examined.
The submissions state: “If HD’s [Dance’s] fears are evidenced and AB [Archie] was mortally injured as a result of the accessibility on platforms such as TikTok of such challenges, or messages from influencers about the same, including ‘dares’ – which appears to HD very likely to be the case – then it is submitted that such matters properly fall to be investigated as part of the wider public interest and as a means of perhaps avoiding future deaths.
“Calling for evidence, and reviewing it in the public domain, would not only permit all the circumstances touching on the death of AB properly to be investigated but would be proportionate to the risk and/or effect of the same tragic circumstances being visited on any household in the jurisdiction with children of tender years who have access to the internet and in particular TikTok.”
TikTok has a minimum age requirement of 13 but in 2020 Ofcom found that 42% of UK eight- to 12-year-olds used the video platform.
In September, fellow tech companies Meta and Pinterest came under scrutiny in the inquest into the death of 14-year-old Molly Russell. In a landmark judgment, the coroner found that Molly “died from an act of self-harm while suffering from depression and the negative effects of online content”.
The submissions on behalf of Dance request a jury inquest and also that the “well-meaning response” of ambulance staff and those responsible for Archie’s care in the first 24 hours be examined. Dance said this included why he was not flown to the Royal London hospital. The submissions explicitly state that they are not seeking for the court decisions about Archie to be explored.
TikTok declined to comment.