Chapman was a manipulative liar who used the internet to kill

Facebook gave Peter Chapman the means of luring a vulnerable girl to her death, reports Jonathan Brown
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The Independent Online

Ashleigh Hall was a typical messy teenager, interested in boys, the internet and mobile phones. And like so many others her age she was highly impressionable, with little experience of the opposite sex.

Peter Chapman by contrast was a manipulative and cunning liar whose long and brutal history of serial violence against women had seen him serve time in prison and put him on the sex offenders' register. They should never have met. Yet Miss Hall was to fall fatally for the mendacious lies of the older man which he spun on the social networking site Facebook. It was here that Miss Hall's killer convinced her he was a handsome young man interested in getting to know her and then pretended to be the boy's father to lure her into his car where he raped and murdered her.

Chapman, 33, was well known to police across the north of England and the South West long before he befriended Miss Hall. He had previously been jailed for raping two teenage prostitutes and investigated by detectives in connection with at least five other serious offences, including rape and kidnap. Charges were dropped.

Using false identities the homeless drifter made contact with hundreds of girls over the internet, some as young as 15. He persuaded some of them to send him photographs of themselves dressed in their underwear.

But it was Miss Hall, a kind and trusting 17-year-old student nursery nurse from Darlington, Co. Durham, who was to be enticed into meeting him. She was attracted by stolen images posted by Chapman on the internet of his "handsome alter ego" – a fictitious 19-year-old he called Peter Cartwright. Miss Hall lived with her mother and helped to raise her three younger sisters. She spent many hours chatting to friends online. But she also suffered from low-self-esteem and despite using the soubriquet "playgirl" she was easily flattered.

Friends said she had been "giddy" with excitement about meeting 19-year-old Peter. She told fellow students she intended to stay the night at his house.

But Chapman was far from the attractive image he portrayed on the online sites he used such as Facebook, and the messaging service Microsoft Windows Live Messenger (MSN). Balding and slightly-built, he looked much older than his years.

Brought up by his grandparents in Stockton-on-Tees, Teesside, he was 15 when he was first investigated for sexual assault. Four years later he was accused of raping a friend, although the charges were dropped when the girl became pregnant. In 1996, he was jailed for seven years for raping two prostitutes at knifepoint.

Out of jail, he was again arrested in connection with the rape and kidnap of another prostitute, this time in Ellesmere Port, Cheshire. The case never came to court. Later that year he was interviewed by police in Bristol on deception offences. In 2003, he appeared in court in Liverpool accused of tying up and raping a teenage prostitute and keeping her prisoner for 14 hours. The case was discontinued.

By 2009, he was back in the North East after another failed relationship and a suspicious arson attack at a neighbour's home. He started using a stolen laptop to make internet contacts.

He made his intentions clear from the beginning of the six days he was in contact with Miss Hall before her death. He failed to turn up for their first meeting, aware that she would never believe he was the attractive young man in the pictures. But he had a plan. Two days later, masquerading as Peter Cartwright, he arranged for Miss Hall to be picked up by a man he said would be his father. Chapman would be driving the car.

Miss Hall was taken in by the trap. Before he arrived at her home on the evening of 25 October the killer had texted his victim saying: "Hi hun its pete's dad are you sure you don't mind me picking you up? Pete is really looking foreward to seeing you and yes its ok for you to stay."

A few seconds later, she replied: "No its fine I dnt mind I trust him so I trust u and thank u." Chapman sent another text message, pretending to be Peter, which said: "Me dad's on his way babe he says excuse the state of him lol (laugh out loud)... he doesn't have to come in and meet your mum does he lol he'll be a mess probably lol oh and are you wearin some sexy underwear for me hehe x." She replied: "Okaii babe and no he doesn't lol and its okaii haha, wat car has he got and u will have to wait and see wnt u ;) x x."

Chapman drove the teenager to an area off the A177 at a lay-by at Thorpe Larches, near Sedgefield. Here the terrified youngster was forced to perform oral sex on her attacker and then raped. The prosecution described how he removed her lower clothing and gagged her with duct tape which he wound around her face and arms. At one point he removed the bindings from her arms to allow her to pull up her clothing but then re-tied her, winding yet more tape over her face which suffocated her. He dumped her body in a farmer's field.

The following day, as Miss Hall's mother became increasingly frantic at her daughter's whereabouts, Chapman's car was stopped by police for a routine motoring offence.

He had made no attempt to dispose of the incriminating evidence. Miss Hall's telephone was still in the car as was a bag containing her clothes and other personal effects. Police found a screwed-up length of used duct tape and the cardboard end of a roll. Next to a brown paper McDonald's bag was more tape with Miss Hall's hair still stuck to it. A used condom was recovered from the CD console.

Despite the fact that police had no idea that she had been murdered, Chapman confessed to astonished officers that he had killed her. CCTV footage showed him telling a detective: "I had to tell you today. I couldn't just leave her like that. Has anyone been in touch with her family?"

Miss Hall's mother learned of her daughter's death on the 30th time she rang her mobile phone after her disappearance. It was answered by a police officer. Yesterday, after weeping though the evidence at Teesside Crown Court Andrea Hall, 39, described the former Girl Guide as a friend as well as a daughter who would help her in the day-to-day chores around the house and in bringing up her younger sisters. She said she had been powerless to stop her daughter going out on the night she met Chapman.

"You tell them to be careful but like I said, she said she was meeting a 15, 16, 17-year-old or whatever age he said he was. So of course she was going to meet him. He was a nice looking boy. I couldn't have stopped it and I wouldn't have stopped it," she said.

Internet safety: How victim's friends responded

Ashleigh Hall's friends at Darlington College, produced a list, known as Ashleigh's Rules, which was given to all Darlington schoolchildren earlier this year.

Aymie Nicole Parker, 17, one of the students behind the scheme, said: "We all wanted to get involved in doing something for Ashleigh. We want it to make a difference." Darlington College principal Tim Grant is looking to roll out Ashleigh's Rules across the country. "Internet safety is now such a hugely important issue that we have ambitions to make Ashleigh's Rules available to headteachers and principals throughout the land," he said.

Chief-Supt Andy Reddick, who led the investigation into Ashleigh's murder, urged all parents to be aware of the hazards of making friends online.

He said: "Young people who go online can easily fall prey to the devious tricks of predatory paedophiles who, sadly, are all too willing to prey on the naive and vulnerable."

Ashleigh's rules

*If ever meeting up with somebody who is alien to you or your friends make sure that you meet them in a group of at least two to three, in public and in a well-lit and populated area

*Inform someone of where you are going, what time you should be back, also the name of who you are meeting

*Don't accept anyone on social networking sites that you don't know

*Remember, never to trust anyone who you have met online – you don't know what they are capable of doing

*Never tell a stranger on network sites or chat rooms anything personal about yourself, such as where you live, or your date of birth

*Never meet anyone you don't know, simple as!