This tragedy was the first case in the UK to be tried in court, though unfortunately it is not the only such case and several children have been hurt in this way. The victim in this incident along with her wider family has gone through a lot of pain and heartache. However, they have managed to show enormous courage in seeking to publicise this incident in the hope of alerting others to the potential risks in chatrooms. It was this case that led to the launch of the Chatdanger website in October 2000. Childnet launched the Chatdanger website with the full support of the family, not to dramatise the victim's story but, in the words of the family, "to ensure that some good comes from this tragic episode by raising awareness of the potential dangers of the Internet, particularly chatrooms".
In February 2000, a thirty-three-year-old man made contact with a twelve-year-old girl in a teenage Internet chatroom. This first contact in a chatroom led to emails every day over a two-month period and then to regular conversations on a mobile phone. In this way the girl was groomed from this initial chatroom contact to the point where she actually met the man offline and to the point where she was sexually assaulted.
After the original contact in a chatroom, through a clever and persistent process of persuasion via email and then mobile phone, the man convinced the girl that he was in love with her. At first the girl resisted his requests for a meeting but finally she gave in to his pressure and agreed to meet him in a public place. The man arrived by car, introduced himself to his victim and drove her to his flat many miles away where he began a series of indecent assaults.
After four meetings in quick succession, the increasingly confused girl broke down and told everything to her mother. Her parents were shocked and immediately told the police. Some days passed before the man was arrested, and, pending further investigation and the result of
the laboratory analysis of his computer, he was released on bail.
Within days he had used the computer at his place of work to contact another underage girl and, using similar tactics, drove hundreds of miles across the country to commit a similar assault. The man’s work colleagues discovered some disturbing emails and tipped off the police who mounted a surveillance operation and rearrested him, just as the next young victim was getting into his car.
The police arrested the man and he was charged with sexual assault and possession of child pornography – he was later found guilty and sent to prison.
- Be careful who you trust online and remember that online friends are really strangers. People online, no matter how long you have been talking to them or how friendly they are, may not be who they say they are.
- Stay in charge in chat. Keep your personal information secret when chatting online (name, address, telephone number, mobile number, private email address, picture), even if people ask for this.
- Check your profile and make sure it doesn’t include any personal information (name, address, telephone number, mobile number, private email address, picture).
- Meeting someone you have only been in touch with online can be dangerous. If you feel that you ‘have to’ meet, then for your own safety you must tell your parent or carer and take them with you – at least on the first visit – and meet in a public place in daytime.
- Tell your parent or carer if someone or something makes you feel uncomfortable or worried.