Anorak News | 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 a huge yelp of rage, and that is currently being directed at the McCanns. How can they even be “trolled” if they have not seen these abusive messages, some are saying…

…anonymity is at the heart of this web of power. My identity is not hidden but you can choose to hide yours. This is the nature of old media versus new and one can see it played out as a kind of asymmetrical warfare. But anonymity is not of itself a noble virtue; its power can also be abused. The issue here is one of accountability. Without any sense of mutuality or accountability we create not an alternative to the mainstream media, merely an antisocial media in which the same hierarchies take hold and the same people get shouted down.

Barbie Latza Nadeau, Daily Beast:

According to a February 2014 study entitled Trolls Just Want To Have Fun conducted by Canadian doctors Erin E. Buckels, Paul. D. Trapnell and Delroy L. Paulhus, Internet trolls operate as “agents of chaos” on the Internet, exploiting hot-button issues for perverse pleasure. “Online trolling is the practice of behaving in a deceptive, destructive, or disruptive manner in a social setting on the Internet with no apparent instrumental purpose,” according to the report. “This is why novice Internet users are routinely admonished, ‘do not feed the trolls.’”

The Times:

A Sky News reporter became the focus of an online backlash yesterday after a woman accused by the broadcaster of “trolling” the parents of Madeleine McCann was found dead. A Facebook group that called for the sacking of Martin Brunt, Sky’s crime correspondent, attracted almost 1,400 likes while one Twitter user published his home address and the name of his wife.

The Guardian:

The broadcaster Sky is facing a possible Ofcom investigation after a woman was found dead in a hotel just days after a news team confronted her on camera over suspected online attacks on Kate and Gerry McCann. Sky said it was “saddened” by her death.

The TV regulator said it was assessing 60 complaints about Sky News’s doorstepping of Brenda Leyland, mostly made after news of her death broke on Sunday.

And on it goes…

The Derby Telegraph:

LAURA Bates could hardly believe her eyes when she saw the sick messages bullies were sending her on Facebook. She was told she was “going to die with a sad life”. The abuser then said he hoped her mum, dad, or grandparents got cancer “and dies right in front of her”.

Laura’s dad, Simon, 68, was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2012. The disease hit him hard, and very nearly killed him, leaving him with poor speech. It also took the life of his brother-in-law, who died at Christmas.

Laura, 17, of Hilton, said the bullying, last month, had left her petrified, and her father had been traumatised by the abuse. She said: “My dad was downstairs recovering from cancer and was very upset because he could not talk very well…

Laura’s story comes after the Twitter troll who bombarded the parents of Madeleine McCann with abuse allegedly killed herself.

Brenda Leyland said Madeleine’s parents were to blame for the girls’ disappearance.

Laura said she was horrified at the abuse. She said: “I find it horrible that this problem is not stopping. Like in this case, I don’t think people think it’s serious, but it is. It’s not fun and games. It makes me angry.”

The abusive messages have now been deleted by the user of the account. Laura, who is studying a childcare course at Derby College, said she now had more information about reporting abuse and was ready to tackle it if more arrives.

She said she knew who the abusers were and believes they would know about her father’s illness.

The poison pen letter has been updated…



Posted: 7th, October 2014 | In: Madeleine McCann, Reviews Comment | TrackBack | Permalink