In February of this year, a stranger entered the Smith's home without their knowledge or consent. The intruder was not a normal housebreaker and his intentions were far more sinister than merely stealing replaceable possessions. From a cowardly and anonymous vantage point, many miles away, he had logged onto a teenage Chat Room via the Internet and was waiting for his intended prey - a young girl who had also logged on, with the intention of corresponding with her peers. Instead of this, she became the unwitting subject of a relentless campaign to rob her of her childhood and innocence.
In the same way in which a spider weaves a web to trap his victim, this perpetrator spun many 'expressions of love' and managed to appear as a friend. Once obtaining her e-mail address, he bombarded her with messages, with the goal of getting to meet her alone. All of this took place over a period of weeks, within the confines of the family house and was undetected by her parents.
Caught in an unequal, abusive relationship, the young girl was unable to rebuff this man's endeavours to arrange a rendezvous and finally gave way and agreed to a meeting in a public place. Her 33-year-old assailant arrived by car and after identifying himself to her, removed her to his flat many miles away, and so began a series of indecent assaults.
The young girl finally broke down and shared the event with her parents who were stunned and completely numb. Immediately they informed the police who arrested the perpetrator and confiscated a number of items pending analysis, including his home computer which was found to contain indecent pictures of children stored on the hard drive. He was released on police bail pending further investigation and results of the laboratory analysis.
Within days, he had used the computer at his place of work to contact another young underage girl and, using similar tactics, drove hundreds of miles across the country to commit a similar assault. Thankfully, his work colleagues discovered some disturbing e-mails and tipped off the police who mounted a surveillance operation and re-arrested him, just as the next young victim was getting into his car.
The Internet is fast becoming as important to our lives as good roads. However, unlike a public highway on which children are taught how to cross and keep safe, the Internet and Chat Rooms in particular, can be dangerous places for children. This website looks at these issues. This one tragedy, whilst being the first case in the UK to be tried in court, is by no means isolated (details are available on the web site). In this case the victim's father worked in the computer industry and was very familiar with the Internet. However, he did not realise what could happen in Chat.
The parents' hope is that through using the Internet in this case positively, this website will stimulate parents and carers to take greater interest in what their children are doing on the net and help them ensure that we all use the net safely.
The victim in this incident along with the wider family have gone through acute 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 risks.