For the Sky News television crew it was the “fronting-up” necessary to conclude a journalistic investigation. For Brenda Leyland, it was the beginning of a public exposure for distasteful conduct which she could not endure.
The mother-of-two had for at least four years been posting anonymous tweets about the disappearance of Madeleine McCann and for much of that time that the messages had included abuse targeted at the missing child’s parents.
On 30 September last year, Mrs Leyland’s behaviour, which had seen her sending up to 50 “trolling” Twitter messages a day, caught up with her when she was confronted by Sky News’ crime correspondent Martin Brunt at her Leicestershire home.
Mrs Leyland, 63, a divorcee with a history of mental illness, initially appeared defiant, telling Mr Brunt she was “entitled” to use her Twitter account to attack Gerry and Kate McCann. She later told Mr Brunt she had thought of “ending it all” as a result of her exposure.
The Madeleine McCann case
The Madeleine McCann case
1/25 Madeleine McCann
One of the last photos of Madeleine before her disappearance
2/25 Madeleine McCann
Madeleine McCann was three when she was abducted during a family holiday in 2007
3/25 Top worn by a man that detectives investigate with connection to disappearance of Madeleine McCann
A computer generated image of the distinctive burgundy long sleeve top worn by a man that detectives investigating the disappearance of Madeleine McCann are looking for
4/25 Apartment in Portugal from where Madeleine went missing
An aerial view of the Ocean Club apartments and pool where Madeleine McCann went missing
Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images
5/25 Kate McCann
Kate McCann speaks to the press outside the court house in Lisbon on 12 September 2013 following the first audience of the McCann couple's libel proceedings against former inspector Goncalo Amaral for a book written about the case of their missing daughter
6/25 Kate and Gerry McCann
Kate McCann and Gerry McCann before the start of the 'Miles for Missing People' charity run in Regent's Park in London, 2011
7/25 Kate and Gerry McCann
Kate and Gerry McCann make an appeal at a press conference in the holiday resort of Praia da Luz, Portugal 7 May 2007
8/25 Kate and Gerry McCann
The McCann's give an interview with a Spanish television channel at their home in Rothley
9/25 Kate and Gerry McCann
Madeleine McCann was abducted in Portugal in May 2007
10/25 Kate and Gerry McCann
Preliminary forensic analysis on samples recovered from the McCanns' hire car raised the possibility of a match with Madeleine's DNA profile, according to the leaked report
11/25 Kate and Gerry McCann
Pope Benedict XVI blesses a photo of four-year-old abducted British girl Madeleine McCann, while meeting her parents Gerry and Kate McCann, after his weekly general audience at the Vatican, 2007
12/25 Kate and Gerry McCann
Gerald McCann and Kate McCann speak to the press on 4 May 2007 at the Ocean club appartement hotel in Praia de Luz in Lagos after Madeline vanished while her parents were out to dinner
13/25 Portuguese police search for Madeleine
Dozens of Portuguese police aided by dogs search for missing three-year old British girl Madelaine McCann in front of the Ocean club appartment hotel in Praia de Luz in Lagos
14/25 Kate and Gerry McCann
Gerald McCann and Kate McCann walk holding their two other children outside the Ocean club apartment hotel in Praia de Luz in May 2007
15/25 Madeleine McCann
Madeleine McCann pictured at the age of three, left, and as she might have looked aged nine
16/25 Kate and Gerry McCann
The parents of missing Madeleine McCann have described as "pure speculation" reports in the Portuguese press suggesting that a chief suspect in the disappearance of their daughter was killed in a tractor accident four years ago.
17/25 Tribute for missing Madeleine in Rothley, Leicesteshire
Three year old Cally prepares to add a yellow ribbon to a floral tribute for missing Madeleine McCann in Rothley in Leicesteshire, 2007
18/25 Support for the missing Madeleine
Everton captain Lee Carsley (L) leads his team onto the field, followed Mikel Arteta (C) and Manuel Fernandes (R) wearing Tshirts bearing a message of support for the missing British toddler Madeleine McCann, prior to the English Premiership match between Chelsea and Everton, at Stamford Bridge in London, 2007
19/25 Madeleine McCann
A poster appealing for information about Madeleine McCann at a Spanish railway station
20/25 BBC's Crimewatch reconstruction of Madeleine McCann's disappearance
Former porn star Mark Sloan (L) was cast in the BBC's Crimewatch reconstruction of Madeleine McCann's disappearance
21/25 Clarence Mitchell holds two artist's impression of the new suspect
McCann family spokesman Clarence Mitchell holds two artist's impression of the new suspect on 20 January 2008 in London. The description has come from British woman Gail Cooper, who was staying with her family close to the McCann's apartment in Portugal
22/25 Image of a woman sought in the case
Clarence Mitchell, the press spokesman for the McCann family, releases a photofit image of a woman sought in the search for missing Madeleine McCann
23/25 Suspect in disappearance of Madeleine McCann
Police released two e-fits of suspect in disappearance of Madeleine McCann
24/25 Raymond Hewlett
Convicted paedophile Raymond Hewlett, who is being sought in connection with the disappearance of Madeleine McCann
25/25 A picture of a suspect
An artist's impression of a suspicious man seen by a witness apparently watching the McCann family's apartment in Praia da Luz, Portugal, the day before Madeleine McCann went missing
The precise role of the mother-of-two’s public outing as a Twitter troll in a subsequent Sky News report in what happened next cannot be known. But four days after she was doorstepped by the camera crew her body was found in a room in a nearby Marriott Hotel.
In a statement read to the inquest, her younger son Ben said: “My mother had always struggled with depression and was prone to anxiety and physical health issues she had been told were effectively untreatable. There is no doubt in my mind that the Sky News interview was the final straw that pushed her do what she died.”
A coroner today ruled that Mrs Leyland had taken her own life by taking an overdose.
Catherine Mason, the Coroner for South Leicestershire, said Mrs Leyland had been “recently upset by public exposure in the media” but there had been a number of issues surrounding her death. The coroner added: “I am satisfied that no-one could have known what she was going to do and how she was going to do it.”
Mr Brunt, a respected veteran broadcaster, spoke of his personal trauma at the suicide of the subject of one of his reports and said he had considered the comment from Ms Leyland she had considered “ending it all” a throwaway remark.
The journalist told the inquest: “I was devastated, I still am and the enormity of what’s happened will always be with me.”
The hearing was told that the Sky News team had approached Mrs Leyland twice on 30 September last year after Mr Brunt was passed a dossier containing evidence that she was one of a number of trolls targeting the McCanns with unpleasant messages arising from the disappearance of Madeleine in 2007.
In the ten months leading up to her death, Mrs Leyland, from Burton Overy, Leicestershire, sent 400 tweets relating to the couple. One message attributed to her @Sweepyface account read: “Q ‘how long must the Mccanns suffer’ answer ‘for the rest of their miserable lives’.”
Mr Brunt approached her after she emerged from her house to get into a waiting car. The journalist said: “I was rather surprised that she did speak to me and did engage with me. The first question was ‘Why are you using your Twitter account to attack the McCanns?’ She didn’t say much but she did say ‘I am entitled to’.”
The inquest heard that Ms Leyland declined the offer a more considered interview later that day, insisting that her actions were not unlawful. She then contacted Mr Brunt the following day after he had given her his number and asked her to call if she had any concerns.
The journalist said he had explained his plans for his report to her, which showed her face but did not name her or identify her village.
Asked if there was anything in Ms Leyland’s voice which gave rise to “real and immediate” concern for her life, he replied: “No, but when I asked her how she was , she said ‘Oh I have thought about ending it all but I am feeling better - I have had a drink and spoken to my son’.”
Mr Brunt said he had not considered the remark to be serious and had had no idea of Ms Leyland’s history, which included a previous suicide attempt.
Sky News said it had pursued the story which it considered to be in the public interest in a “responsible manner”. A spokesman for the channel said: “Brenda Leyland’s tragic death highlights the unforeseeable human impact that the stories we pursue can have, and Sky News would like to extend its sincere condolences to her family.”
Ofcom, the broadcasting watchdog, said it had received 171 complaints concerning the original report. It is understood it will now consider those complaints in the light of the coroner’s verdict.Reuse content