Anorak | Brenda Leyland: Cliff Richard, Free Speech And Martin Brunt’s Wife

Brenda Leyland: Cliff Richard, Free Speech And Martin Brunt’s Wife

by | 7th, October 2014

Brenda-Leyland dead


BRENDA Leyland continues to make news. The woman monstered by the media , outed by twitter hunters who allegedly tweeted  thousands of often abusive and potentially libellous messages about the parents of missing Madeleine McCann, is dead . This is an at-a-glance round-up of today’s news on her:

Bryony Gordon, The Telegraph :

It’s never OK to troll anyone even a troll – Cyberspace is medieval we no sooner take in an event than put the people at the heart of it in the stocks, be they the McCanns, Brenda Leyland or Sky News…

On so many levels, the story of Brenda Leyland, the church-going Twitter troll who said some ungodly things about the McCann family, makes my heart ache… I can’t stand the idea of this lonely woman with her pathetic double life under the pseudonym of “Sweepyface”; one minute attending church, the next rushing home to spill on to the internet noxious bile about a couple with a missing child. But nor can I bear that she was treated in some quarters as if she herself had abducted Madeleine McCann, and not just acted like a deluded moron with broadband and access to some of the web’s crazier conspiracy theories.

This is a Sweepyface and me story:

…this morning I read a post by someone on Facebook who said that she deserved to die because, if she couldn’t take it, she shouldn’t have dished it out. Scores of people agreed. Had I not been fearful of a digital lynching, I might have said that Sweepyface didn’t deserve to be held to account by Sky News in such a public way. But I am what is known online as a “good-for-nothing coward” – or, offline, as a pacifist…

And there but for the grace of God…

Who could honestly say that if they found themselves living alone in their sixties, divorced, with one son estranged and one in America, they wouldn’t end up like Leyland, spewing out the thoughts in their head in the belief that they constitute free speech?..

It is free speech. She was charged with no offence.

But it simply isn’t good enough for the authorities to shrug their shoulders and refuse to deal with the digital world. If something is a crime offline, then why is it not a crime online, too?

It is a crime to menace people. Liam Stacey went to prison for his tweets.

And why, when so many young people spend so much of their time on the web, should they be expected to do so in a lawless environment…

It’s not lawless.

Bex Lewis, The Conversation :

Should McCann Twitter abuser have been doorstepped on TV?…

For obvious reasons, the McCanns had encouraged a high-profile press campaign after Madeleine’s disappearance. But without answers about what happened to Madeleine, conspiracy theories have abounded. Brenda Leyland was one of many to discuss the McCann case online. As Rev Pam Smith, one of my Facebook connections said, are we really saying that people are not “entitled” to share adverse views online?

Leyland said she “hoped she hadn’t broken any laws”, but the Malicious Communications Act 1988, which covers Twitter, notes that it is an offence to send messages to another person which are “indecent or grossly offensive”, threatening or false. If the message is intended to cause distress or anxiety to the recipient, they breach the law…

Whether or not we like what Leyland had been doing, she was clearly just one of several people who had been expressing their opinions online. She was certainly not the worst. Is doorstepping people, outing them on TV, and ensuring that their face circulates the internet, really the answer? Had Sky done any research into this woman before they put her face in the public domain? Did they know anything about her mental state? Did she just have the misfortune to be the first person who could be made an example of?

Her case carried echoes of the recent media treatment of Cliff Richard. The BBC was heavily rapped for broadcasting live from his home as police raided it. The police of course need to investigate such stories but it is a worrying sign of our culture that trial by media and even trial by gossip appear to have become acceptable.

Suzanne Moore, The Guardian :


…a real unease exists over what is free speech, what is hate speech and the protection that anonymity offers…

Anonymity is the troll’s only real-life friend. It allows a disinhibition online. Combined with the fact that none of the normal feedback mechanisms of everyday life exist no eye contact, no authority figures, no sense that behaviour is being monitored or reacted to by an actual person with feelings all of this means people seem to think there is no going too far and there are no consequences.

Whenever there are, there is

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Posted: 7th, October 2014 | In: Madeleine McCann, News Comment | Follow the Comments on our RSS feed: RSS 2.0 | TrackBack | Permalink