As the inquest into the death of Brenda Leyland opens and is adjourned, Matthew Steeples suggests that those who vilified her have as many questions to answer as they themselves asked
On Wednesday, a coroner opened and adjourned the inquest into the death of Brenda Leyland until 18th December due to her “cause of death still not [being] known”.
Whilst this news has naturally encouraged those who allege “foul play”, there is little doubt that there will be anything other than a suicide verdict in due course. A Facebook group named ‘Sack Martin Brunt’, however, now has over 2,100 members and a Change.org petition demanding justice for this 63-year old has attracted over 1,000 signatures. These people are right: Mrs Leyland’s treatment by Sky News’ Martin Brunt and The Mirror’s Carole Malone does in fact deserve investigation at the very least.
Mrs Leyland, contrary to what was unjustly reported by the media prior to and after her death, did not directly “troll” Gerry and Kate McCann and she did not threaten to kill or harm them. Though she wrote 4,220 tweets making reference to the couple and their missing daughter, one pro-McCann supporter easily beat her with over 40,000 tweets attacking those who dare to question the events surrounding Madeleine McCann’s disappearance. Leyland was by far the tip of the iceberg in terms of her social media activities and that her remarks were innocuous is evidence enough that Sky reporter Martin Brunt’s actions in the way he targeted her were not in the public interest.
Though it cannot be denied that Brenda Leyland was plainly obsessed with the McCann case, Martin Brunt had no right to confront her in the way he did. Mrs Leyland, at the point she was filmed in the street outside her home had neither been contacted, interviewed, arrested or charged with any offence and on that basis Brunt’s declaration that “Scotland Yard were considering a file” against her was premature. He, as a journalist with a long career behind him, ought to have realised that instead of being a “self-appointed Internet policeman” and creating news, he should have waited to report on it.
Meanwhile, Dr Claire Hardaker, a lecturer at Lancaster University and a specialist in Internet abuse, made a series of valid points in stating:
“I don’t think [Leyland] was a troll, she had very unpopular opinions, she was convinced that there had been a cover-up and that the British press and police were complicit. She called the McCann’s fools, she called someone that she didn’t agree with a ‘f**ktard’, but that’s about as bad as it got”.
“[Leyland] had entirely bought into the conspiracy theory, and she was a campaigner. She was tweeting the Daily Mail, Sky News, the Met Police, everyone to try to get them to investigate. She might have been misguided, but her intentions were to act in the little girl’s best interests, and she was obsessive”.
“[Leyland] describes [the McCanns] as neglectful parents, objects to their ongoing media appearances, and complains that they are profiting from their daughter’s disappearance… And when people challenge her, she calls them unpleasant names, disputes their evidence, and blocks them”.
“In short, her conduct would aggravate some, and deeply offend others, but much the same could be said of select comedians, journalists and celebrities, who can reach millions. Brenda Leyland’s account had a mere 182 followers by the time it suddenly vanished. The crucial question, however, is: did she incite others to harm the McCanns? Or threaten to abduct the McCanns’ other children? Or pose any kind of clear menace? On Twitter at least it doesn’t seem so”.
Martin Brunt, himself, also engaged with Leyland on the social media network by following her and she is said to have “tweeted him asking him to investigate the theories she was passionate about” according to Dr Hardaker.
An Ofcom investigation into why Sky chose to report this story in the way it did is very much needed and just as Gerry McCann has demanded trolls be “made an example of”, so too must the journalistic conduct that undoubtedly contributed to the untimely death of Brenda Leyland.
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