It hasn’t taken long for the death of the woman alleged to have abused online the parents of Madeleine McCann to have fallen out of the news. It made the headlines the day after Brenda Leyland’s death was announced. Sky News said they were ‘saddened’ over the incident. One or two ‘trolling experts’ got their ‘fifteen minutes of fame’ by trying to explain just why a 63 year-old woman saw fit to abuse online two people she had presumably never met. The next day it was, by definition, yesterday’s news and the media moved onto other things.
I am going to resist the temptation to comment on the McCann case or online trolling. Suffice to say that I can understand that many people may feel what the McCanns did was wrong but I cannot understand why anyone would post abuse directed at them on Twitter or any other social medium. In fact, I heard Gerry McCann being interviewed about online abuse and he admitted that he and his wife don’t read comments about them on the Internet so that makes the whole exercise even more pointless in my opinion.
Whatever the rights and wrongs of leaving children alone and Internet trolling, the unfortunate Mrs Leyland had apparently convinced herself that the entire Madeleine affair was a cover up by the McCanns themselves, the Portuguese Police, Leicestershire Constabulary and New Scotland Yard detectives. I heard an interview with someone who had gained access to the posts in question (for academic purposes I might add) and she said @sweepyface (Mrs Leyland’s Twitter identity) had, I think, posted over 2,000 Tweets expressing her views on what she viewed as a vast conspiracy. You might come to the conclusion therefore that the poor lady needed some help and most certainly did not need to be ‘door-stepped’ by Sky News.
According to Sky News Mrs Leyland’s “catalogue of vile internet abuse” had been passed in a file to the police. On their own admission she was said not to be the worst of the online offenders but Sky apparently decided it was newsworthy and therefore justifiable to knock on her door and confront her. Needless to say, the airing of that footage led to the press besieging Mrs Leyland’s house and she decided to move to a local hotel where she sadly later took her own life.
Well I would challenge the fact that Sky News found Mrs Leyland’s online abuse anymore newsworthy than any other case that had been reported to the police. I would surmise that she was the only one they managed to identify and it was probably through a leak of her details by someone who had handled her file. Twitter are notoriously guarded about revealing the identity of their clients claiming they are only subject to US law. None of the media coverage I saw or read questioned how Sky got Mrs Leyland’s name and address. Strange that!