She launched a successful legal battle against her local authority when her son was bullied and now Liz Carnell fights daily to help other victims of bullying. She talks to Women's Editor Lindsay Jennings ahead of National Anti-Bullying Week.

ON Liz Carnell's desk is a hardbacked notebook with bright red stickers dotted randomly throughout. Running her finger down a page, Liz points to a name under today's date. Next to the name is a brief description of the girl's problem - how she hates school and is terrified of going for fear of being bullied and how the school won't take her seriously. Next to her name is one of those bright red stickers.

"The ones with red blobs are the ones who want to kill themselves," explains Liz, turning over the pages and revealing an alarming number of red dots.

Liz, 50, of Harrogate, North Yorkshire, receives an average of four suicidal emails per day out of the 8,000 sent every year to the charity of which she is director, Bullying Online.

The website-based charity was set up in 1999 with her son John, who was bullied at school. The site includes advice for parents, children, teachers and youth workers, as well as legal advice and sample letters for those who may not know how to complain to their children's schools.

It is exactly the kind of advice Liz, husband Stuart, and John needed 11 years ago when they found their world torn apart by bullies.

What began with John coming home from school when he was 12 without pens and rulers, soon progressed to torn clothes, bruises and verbal abuse.

"He would tell us what had happened, but we didn't find out the true extent of what was going on until years later," says Liz. "He came home one day and said, 'I wish I was dead' - that's not something you forget as a parent."

Liz and Stuart complained to the school, but she says they became exasperated by the lack of action taken against the bully. Eventually, they moved John to another school and took legal action against North Yorkshire County Council, claiming it should have done more to protect their son. Five years later, the council paid £6,000 in an out-of-court settlement. The authority denied liability and the school also vigorously denied the allegations. But the family wanted something good to come out of their experiences and set up Bullying Online, with Liz drawing on her experience as a Samaritan.

'The charity was immediately successful - unfortunately so because it showed how many kids there were being bullied," says Liz.

"And you can see," she says, turning page, after full page, of her notebook, "this book has only been going since June. But it shows how desperate they are. They send emails from across the world. We've had one girl write from Hawaii and we get lots from Canada. We try to get a dialogue going with them and, in that time, hopefully we can get the parents involved to help get it sorted out."

One email has come from a parent, her entry marked by two red stickers.

"She has two kids who want to kill themselves," says Liz.

A second writes to say that her son's bully is the child of the chair of governors and the school won't take any action.

It is the lack of action taken in some schools which Liz is passionate about. It is why the charity is constantly putting pressure on the Government to change the way schools handle bullies. The no blame style policies - which include bullies sitting down with their victims to discuss the problem - don't work, she says, because they leave the solutions in the hands of pupils, which doesn't stop the bullying.

"Those kind of strategies are not appropriate and are often humiliating and upsetting for the victims," she says. "There is action schools can take. They can give warnings, they can give detentions and internal exclusions within school, where a kid can still be at school but segregated from everyone else."

She points to an entry in her book from a woman who has written to say that a fellow pupil tried to strangle her daughter, but that no action was taken.

"If someone is 15 and attacks someone at school nothing happens, but if they were 16 and they did that in the workplace, the full force of the law would come down on them," says Liz.

"Why should young people get the impression that if they behave this way in school nothing happens? We think bullies should be punished and not as a last resort. It should be available in the first instance." She says that while only half of the people who contact the charity have been violently attacked, abuse can come in many forms.

"Many talk about the effects name calling has had on them and we find a huge number of children who are receiving psychiatric help as result of bullying. Self harm is a big issue, others stop eating because of it."

Since John was targeted at school 11 years ago, new technology has also created a new breed of bully. There's the recent craze for so-called 'happy slapping' where victims are filmed on mobile telephone cameras in various states of distress. There are kids who send abusive messages by text and there is cyber bullying, where bullies set up abusive websites, encouraging their friends to leave hate-fuelled messages on the site.

"We find some of the information has even been uploaded from school computers," says Liz. "We get so many of these abusive websites and people contact us because they don't know how to get them removed. But we can ask them for the website link and contact the internet service provider and get it removed."

The charity is reaching out to thousands of children, and Liz says she sometimes feels overwhelmed, answering those desperate pleas for help. Some of the emails even come from parents whose children have committed suicide, most of them wanting to help the charity make changes in schools.

"Sometimes it is very upsetting," she admits. "But I think the Samaritans training I did teaches you to separate yourself from it. I know the best I'm doing is the best I can do."

Most who email with problems receive a personal reply within half an hour and there are nine people working for the charity. Liz is up at 5.30am every day answering emails for an hour and half before going to work as a journalist at the Yorkshire Evening Post in Leeds.

When she gets home, she works at her computer until 11pm, sometimes longer. She also has a laptop and her phone accepts emails, so even on holiday she is reassuring the victims, telling them to talk to their parents or advising parents how to deal with schools.

"It's very difficult because it takes so much of my time and I sometimes feel guilty about the time I spend on it, but the whole family is involved and my husband, who is a chef, helps out."

But running the charity has huge rewards and her devotion has won a number of awards. Most recent was a Pride of Britain Award in London last month presented by Rupert Grint (Ron Weasley) and Tom Felton (Draco Malfoy) of Harry Potter fame.

There are also the emails she gets from those who have been helped by the charity. "One girl from Canada wrote to say 'you saved me'. She made my day when she emailed," she smiles.

The charity's next project is compiling a major national survey on bullying. It seems hardly a day goes by without some story of pupil violence appearing in the news, the latest being about a gang of girls who beat up a fellow pupil in Neath, Port Talbot. Simply judging by the number of names in Liz's book, the figures could be startling.

"We're doing it because schools don't have to record any bullying statistics apart from racist ones," she says. "We want to uncover the full extent of the way bullying is dealt with in the UK."

Liz's son John is now 24 and still suffers from the effects of what happened to him.

"He was diagnosed as suffering from post traumatic stress disorder after the bullying," she says. "He's made a good recovery in many ways, but it's still with him. It's always with him."

His suffering and that of thousands of others, is what drives her to help. That, and a compulsion to rid the pages of her book of little red dots.

"It is all worth it just to see some of the replies from people we've helped," she says. "I've worked so hard on it and so has John. It's our project and it's been wonderful to see how many rewards we've got from it."

* Bullying Online can be contacted by logging onto

* National Anti-Bullying Week begins on Monday.