'His life was taken': Family set up charity to warn of online dangers after son's death

The parents of Christopher Nicolaou have set up a charity to help young people cope with online pressures in memory of their son, Antoine Allen reports

The parents of a 15-year-old boy who died after he become involved in a dark web forum are urging families to recognise signs their children are in danger from online predators.

George and Areti Nicolaou, from Waltham Cross, have set up a charity to help young people cope with online pressures in memory of their son Christoforos  - known as Christopher - who took his own life last March after taking part in a series of online challenges he found on the dark web.

His family hope the Christoforos Foundation will help teenagers access activities away from social media.

Christopher unknowingly became caught up in forums on the dark web that gave him challenges he was threatened to follow.

A hotspot of  dangerous or illegal online activity, the dark web is not visible to search engines and requires the use of a specific anonymising browser called Tor to be accessed, making it difficult to track down perpetrators.

"He was made to become terrified," Mr Nicolaou told ITV News. "He was made to believe he was being watched. He was made to believe he needs to complete these challenges. And that was the biggest problem."

Christopher Nicolaou was always top in all subjects at school and was really loved by all his teachers, his parents said.

At first, these challenges were nothing more than eating cornflakes fast and running backwards upstairs, but they soon became more serious.

His parents say these websites often appear harmless, which is how they hook children and vulnerable young people in.

Christopher's parents noticed a change in his behaviour in the months before his death - he became extremely quiet, not very active and "seemed that he was suffering with a lot of fear like someone had made threats to him".

But it was only after Christopher's death that George and Areti discovered he was involved in a dark website, seeing for themselves the coercive messages he had been exchanging with strangers on social media.

As they near the first anniversary of his death, they hope the Christoforos Charity Foundation, which has so far raised over £20,000, will help other families in their son's memory.

"He hasn't taken his own life, his life was taken," Mr Nicolaou said.

Christopher's parents noticed a change in his behaviour after he was lured into forums on the dark web.

"He loved his life," Mrs Nicolaou said.

"He had plans, he wanted to become an architect... We had his sister's wedding... we had plans for our holidays, we had booked tickets."

Mr Nicolaou said: "Christopher was a very happy child. A very education child. Very friendly. Very loving. Very caring - he looked after all his friends."

"He is very missed."

He continued: "Our ambition and goal is that now that we've set up our charity is to raise awareness, to raise money, to spend 100% of every penny that we get on children to have activities to get away from social media, have fun."

"We can't get our son back," Mrs Nicolaou said. "But we really believe we can help parents to stop this happening to them."

The charity offers advice to children to limit their time online:

  • Use an app to track how much time you spend on social media each day. Then set a goal for how much you want to reduce it by.

  • Turn off your phone at certain times of the day, such as having dinner with your family, spending time with offline friends, or playing with board games with your parents. Don’t take your phone with you to the bathroom.

  • Don’t bring your phone or tablet to bed.

  • Turn devices off and leave them in another room overnight to charge.

  • Disable social media notifications . It’s hard to resist the constant buzzing, beeping, and dinging of your phone alerting you to new messages. Turning off notifications can help you regain control of your time and focus.

  • Limit checks . If you compulsively checking your phone every few minutes, wean yourself off by limiting your checks to once every 30 minutes. Then once every 40 minutes, then once an hour. There are apps that can automatically limit when you’re able to access your phone.

  • Try removing social media apps from your phon e so you can only check Facebook for example and the like from your tablet or computer. If this sounds like too drastic a step, try removing one social media app at a time to see how much you really miss it.

For more information and advice, visit the Christoforos Charity Foundation

  • Samaritans provides round the clock support for people when they need it most. You can call them 24 hours a day on 116 123. They also have tips if you're concerned about someone you know, and advice if you're struggling yourself

  • Young people who need support or have any concerns about what they have seen or heard during the inquest can contact Childline on 0800 1111 or via www.childline.org.uk

  • Adults concerned about a child or who needs advice about supporting a young person can contact the NSPCC Helpline on 0808 800 5000 or via help@nspcc.org.uk.