Facebook fears after sex offender logged on to murder

Convicted rapist given 35-year sentence for killing girl he met on social networking site

Questions were last night raised about the monitoring of the online activity of sex offenders after it emerged that a convicted rapist was able to use the social networking site Facebook to befriend a vulnerable teenager he then raped and murdered.

Peter Chapman, 33, was pretending he was 19 years old when he convinced student Ashleigh Hall, 17, to be his Facebook friend. Chapman, who had previously received a seven-year prison sentence for raping two prostitutes, collected the girl in his car from her house before driving to a lay-by where he tied her up, raped and strangled her.

Yesterday, after changing his plea to guilty on the first day of what would have been his trial, Chapman was sentenced to life in prison and told he must serve a minimum of 35 years. Police officers also raised the possibility that he was responsible for other, unsolved, sex crimes. But the revelation that he was on the sex offenders' register at the time of the offence – which happened in October 2009 – has raised questions about how, while supposedly being monitored by the police, he was able to use the internet to find a victim for an even more horrific attack.

And it has prompted police to issue further warnings to youngsters highlighting the dangers of using social networking sites to meet people.

Donald Findlater of the Lucy Faithfull Foundation, a child protection charity which has researched how to monitor and manage the sexual activity of sex offenders, said: "When people have committed such grievous crimes then I think one has seriously to consider how better to monitor their lives in the community, and that includes their lives online. We have the technical means and we ought to be using them.

"In America it is typical that sex offenders are given email addresses which flag up if they attempt to register with social networking sites. The internet can be supervised far better now than ever before with the monitoring technology that is available. I know there would be human rights issues, but we already know that police forces can do a good job of monitoring people's online behaviour."

Ashleigh's mother, Andrea, also spoke about the lack of restrictions her daughter's killer faced. She said: "Those sorts of people should be tagged. He shouldn't have been let out."

Mrs Hall also said it was wrong that Chapman, as a registered sex offender, was able to post online by pretending to be a teenage boy. "He took somebody else's photo and put it on the internet and has been posing behind this photo. It is awful to think that there's actually a boy out there and he is using his photo to prey on young girls," she said.

Currently online restrictions are only placed on offenders who are being monitored by the probation services and even then only usually on those who have used the internet to offend previously. Chapman was released from his seven-year sentence in 2001 and his probation ended in 2003. It had no internet restrictions.

While on the sex offenders' register, he had to notify police of any change of address but even failed to do that. Merseyside Police did not have any face-to-face contact with Chapman for more than a year between September 2008 and October 2009, when he was arrested by Durham police for the murder of Ms Hall, from Darlington.

Yesterday at Teeside Crown Court he also pleaded guilty to failing to notify police of a change of address. During his day in court Chapman was subjected to the steely gaze of his victim's mother, who twisted in her seat to stare at him throughout proceedings.

Passing sentence, Judge Peter Fox said: "It appears to me that you are, a very great danger to young women and I cannot foresee your release. This was an evil scheme."

Detective Chief Inspector Mick Callan, head of Durham Police's major crime squad, said: "He is a devious and dangerous individual."

Last night Merseyside Police admitted a lengthy gap in realising Chapman had fled his home and releasing a nationwide wanted notice for him – something which was only issued a month before Ms Hall's death.

He said: "Merseyside Police can confirm that Peter Chapman was a registered sex offender who was resident within the force area from November 2000, and at that time he was assessed as high risk. The last time Chapman was seen at his home address was 29 August 2008, and he was spoken to by a police officer regarding his employment on 24 September 2008."

The case has also prompted calls for teenagers to be more aware when using social networking sites. Chief Supt Andy Reddick, of Durham police, urged all parents to be aware of the potential hazards of their children making friends online. He said: "This murder trial should be a wake-up call to parents and internet companies to ensure that nothing happens to another innocent victim."

A Facebook spokesman said: "This case serves as a painful reminder that all internet users must use extreme caution when contacted over the internet by people they do not know. We echo the advice of the police who urge people not to meet anyone they have been contacted by online unless they know for certain who they are. Nothing is more important to Facebook than the safety of the people who use our site."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and Clara have their first real heart to heart since he regenerated in 'Deep Breath'
TV
Arts and Entertainment
James Hewitt has firmly denied being Harry’s father
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Oliver
filmTV chef Jamie Oliver turned down role in The Hobbit
News
The official police photograph of Dustin Diamond taken after he was arrested in Wisconsin
peopleDownfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson, left, and Richard Hammond upset the locals in South America
tvReview: Top Gear team flee Patagonia as Christmas special reaches its climax in the style of Butch and Sundance
News
people
Sport
Ashley Barnes of Burnley scores their second goal
footballMan City vs Burnley match report
News
news
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Mayhew as Chewbacca alongside Harrison Ford's Han Solo in 'Star Wars'
film
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Man of action: Christian Bale stars in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film
Life and Style
Apple showed no sign of losing its talent for product launches with the new, slightly larger iPhone 6 making headlines
techSecurity breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
Arts and Entertainment
Catherine (Sarah Lancashire) in Happy Valley ((C) Red Productions/Ben Blackall)
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Clueless? Locked-door mysteries are the ultimate manifestation of the cerebral detective story
booksAs a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

Who remembers that this week we enter the 150th anniversary year of the end of the American Civil War, asks Robert Fisk
Homeless Veterans appeal: Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served

Homeless Veterans appeal

Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served
Downfall of Dustin 'Screech' Diamond, the 'Saved By The Bell' star charged with bar stabbing

Scarred by the bell

The downfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Security breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
Cuba's golf revolution: But will the revolutionary nation take 'bourgeois' game to its heart?

Will revolutionary Cuba take 'bourgeois' golf to its heart?

Fidel Castro ridiculed the game – but now investment in leisure resort projects is welcome
The Locked Room Mysteries: As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor Otto Penzler explains the rules of engagement

The Locked Room Mysteries

As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
Amy Adams on playing painter Margaret Keane in Tim Burton's Big Eyes

How I made myself Keane

Amy Adams hadn’t wanted to take the role of artist Margaret Keane, because she’d had enough of playing victims. But then she had a daughter, and saw the painter in a new light
Ed Richards: Parting view of Ofcom chief. . . we hate jokes on the disabled

Parting view of Ofcom chief... we hate jokes on the disabled

Bad language once got TV viewers irate, inciting calls to broadcasting switchboards. But now there is a worse offender, says retiring head of the media watchdog, Ed Richards
A look back at fashion in 2014: Wear in review

Wear in review

A look back at fashion in 2014
Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015. Might just one of them happen?

Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015

Might just one of them happen?
War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?