Published on 6 Oct 2014 Sections

McCann internet ‘troll-hunting’ site deleted after death

After the death of a woman who targeted the McCann family with online abuse, Channel 4 News finds a website that has assembled 27 dossiers on people it claims post “McCann hate”.

Brenda Leyland, 63, from Burton Overy, Leicestershire, was said to be a “troll” who had targeted the McCanns with abusive messages on Twitter, and was found dead in a hotel on Saturday.

This was after a Sky News reporter confronted her outside her home last week. It is thought that Sky News may have used a dossier gathered by supporters of the McCanns to help them identify and find Leyland.

Channel 4 News has established that supporters of the McCann family have assembled at least 27 dossiers on both anonymous “trolls” and on those who are perceived to be “anti-McCann”.

There is no indication at all of the McCanns being involved in or endorsing this activity themselves.

Gerry McCann last week told the BBC: “Clearly something needs to be done about the abuse on the internet. I’m glad to say that there have been a number of people where police have taken action.”

The Metropolitan Police is investigating the 80-page dossier that catalogues the “hate campaign” against the McCann family, which includes threats against their children.

Troll-hunter site

The dossiers found by Channel 4 News have been created over a period of a number of years about online internet trolls who have targeted the McCanns.

They are hosted on a Wikipedia-style site called “Mccann Hate Exposed”. It was removed from the web sometime in the past week.

Channel 4 News has seen archived copies of some page on the site that catalogue online abuse against the McCann family made by Twitter users.

The site seeks to track usernames and identities across the web, noting what usernames each person is using on sites including YouTube and web forums, and it includes details about their life in the real world.

The information in the dossiers names and unmasks some of the people who criticise or attack the McCanns.

The owners of the site told Channel 4 News: “The wiki has been taken offline so as not to prejudice Scotland Yard’s investigation into online abuse of the McCann family.”

‘Sweepyface’

A dossier about Leyland’s account “Sweepyface” was hosted on the Wiki site, but it is unclear if this is the same dossier that was handed to the police or the same information that was used by Sky News.

When Leyland was confronted by the Sky News reporter, it was put to her that she had posted messages attacking the family. She replied: “I’m entitled to do that.”

The tweets levelled serious criticisms of the McCanns’ behaviour following the disappearance of their daughter, as well as abuse directed at the couple.

One tweet allegedly posted by @Sweepyface, believed to be Leyland’s Twitter account name, said the McCanns had “never had it so good”.

Sky News issued a statement that says: “We were saddened to hear of the death of Brenda Leyland. It would be inappropriate to speculate or comment further at this time.”

A Leicestershire Police spokeswoman said: “Ms Leyland’s death is not being treated as suspicious and a file is being prepared for the Coroner.

McCann family spokesman Clarence Mitchell said: “Kate and Gerry will not be saying anything. It is entirely a matter for the police.”