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Brave Elgin parents speak out on bullying after son, 13, takes own life


By Lorna Thompson

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THE devastated parents of an Elgin teenager have spoken of their agony after their only child took his own life last month.

Over the past year, 13-year-old Philip Polese, an S2 pupil at Elgin High School, had faced bouts of bullying both within and outside of school.

On Saturday, October 31, Philip took the drastic action to end his life while his mum was out for a half-hour walk with the family dog, Benji.

The young teenager, left brain-stem dead, passed away at the Royal Hospital for Sick Children in Edinburgh on November 2 with his mum and dad lying by his side.

His grief-stricken parents, Edward and Kay Polese, of McMillan Avenue, are haunted by unanswered questions.

The couple will never know the extent to which bullying might have triggered their chatty son to take his life – but they praised the school for its handling of incidents.

Prompted by Anti-Bullying Week last week, Mr and Mrs Polese took the brave decision to open up about their loss in the hope that no other family should face such a tragedy.

Kay and Edward Polese, parents of Elgin High School pupil Philip Polese, and their dog, Benji. Picture: Becky Saunderson.
Kay and Edward Polese, parents of Elgin High School pupil Philip Polese, and their dog, Benji. Picture: Becky Saunderson.

The couple had Philip late in life. With no siblings or cousins, Philip was doted on by his wider family as well as his parents. The youngster was very proud of his part-Italian roots.

The former St Sylvester's RC Primary School pupil loved animals, kick-boxing and was a fully-involved regular at Elgin Youth Café, where he had many friends.

Shocked pupils and teachers filled a memory book with reminders of Philip's contagious smile, his laugh and his love of dogs.

Philip's dad, a driver at RAF Lossiemouth, said: "The last words that Kay heard Philip say were, 'Mum, can I put my pyjamas on?' There was no inkling."

His wife said: "We sat and had tea together on that Saturday and he was full of life."

Philip had a ready smile, he had friends, and he appeared to be open with his parents about the bullying incidents. His dad said: "Philip had been getting hassle – but the school were good. The high school really couldn't have been better.

"And he seemed happy."

Philip Polese in June this year with the family dog, Benji.
Philip Polese in June this year with the family dog, Benji.

Mrs Polese said: "Some kids talk to their parents about feeling depressed or upset – but Philip didn't talk about feeling that way.

"The school were on top of bullying. He had friends. He was always smiling. We just can't understand why he did it.

"We didn't see any signs.

"We just don't want any other parent to go through what we've gone through."

The family had been preparing to move into a bigger house in Elgin this month, and Philip was delighted with his new room. He had talked to his dad during walks in the October holidays, when they'd stroll past their home-to-be, about how he would name each of the koi carp fish in the garden pond.

The house move was called off after the tragedy.

Mr Polese said: "We never heard him crying or whimpering in his room – never.

"The thing is Philip didn't bottle things up. When he came home, we said to him as we always did, 'did you have a good day at school?' He said, 'No, I didn't have a good day, Dad', and he told us why.

"Perhaps his death had nothing to do with bullying – but we can't think why else he'd do it."

Philip Polese and dad Edward in July this year at Elgin's Cooper Park.
Philip Polese and dad Edward in July this year at Elgin's Cooper Park.

Mrs Polese said: "We listened to him. We did what we could but ... there was no inkling at all he was going to do that. That's what gets us.

"I want to tell parents they need to talk to their kids, and children need to tell their mums and dads."

Her husband added: "You see this on the news and you think it happens to other people.

"In every photo he looks so happy. He'd often come up to us and – to wind the dog up more than anything as he'd get jealous and start barking – he'd say 'family hug' and give us all a big cuddle.

"He talked a lot about things in the future tense, whether that be naming the fish, or his new bedroom, or watching 'The Mandalorian', it was all stuff to come. It just doesn't make any sense.

"If he had suicidal thoughts there was never a hint of it. I wouldn't have even thought he'd know how to do that. It's like some alternate reality."

Philip Polese with mum Kay at Loch na Bo in August.
Philip Polese with mum Kay at Loch na Bo in August.

Around 200-300 people lined the streets around the family's home on Friday, November 13, the day of Philip's funeral.

Mr and Mrs Polese can't bear to touch anything in the teenager's room, where Philip's pyjamas sit folded and the hoodie he wore that day hangs next to his bed.

"We miss him so much," said his dad. "He was loved here."

Carol MacLennan, youth team manager at Elgin Youth Development Trust which runs the youth café, said: "Philip was always full of energy, positivity and enthusiasm. He made many good friends at the project and they, and the youth team, are devastated at his loss.

"Whether it was wearing a pair of goggles to peel onions, hosting a game of Among Us, or blowing up dinosaurs for our film project, he brought fun, laughter and a huge smile to everything he did.

"Our priority is to support Philip's friends as they come to terms with their grief and to continue providing the safe space that Philip loved."

Scottish anti-bullying service respectme has resources for those dealing with bullying and the people around them at https://whatmadeitbetter.com/resources.


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