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Sky News journalist 'devastated' at death of Madeleine McCann Twitter 'troll'

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Brenda Leyland

Brenda Leyland

Brenda Leyland

A journalist has spoken of his devastation at the death of a Twitter "troll" from Leicestershire who took her own life after featuring in a television news report.

An inquest in Leicester was told that Brenda Leyland was found dead two days after her involvement in online abuse of Madeleine McCann's parents was exposed by Sky News.

Leicester Coroner Catherine Mason also heard that Mrs Leyland, who had a long history of depression, spoke of "ending it all" in a telephone conversation with Sky News crime correspondent Martin Brunt.

It emerged at the 63-year-old's inquest that she sent more than 400 tweets relating to the McCanns between November 2013 and September 29 last year.

The body of the divorcee, from Burton Overy, Leicestershire, was found in a hotel room in Enderby, Leicester, on October 4 last year.

Giving evidence to the inquest, Mr Brunt confirmed that he confronted Mrs Leyland four days before her body was found, after coming into possession of a dossier of alleged Twitter "trolls" which had been handed to police by a third party.

Describing how he approached Mrs Leyland twice on September 30, Mr Brunt told the inquest that he and a cameraman had walked over to question her after she emerged from her house to get into a waiting car.

Mr Brunt 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'."

Mrs Leyland then left in the car but returned later the same day, seemingly very relaxed, and invited Mr Brunt into her home.

The inquest heard that Mrs Leyland then declined the offer of giving a "more considered" interview and insisted that she had not done anything unlawful.

Before leaving the property, Mr Brunt gave Mrs Leyland his mobile phone number and said she could contact him with any concerns she had.

Recalling how Mrs Leyland had contacted him the following day and asked if she would be identified in Sky News' report, Mr Brunt told the inquest: "I did say I would keep her informed because I am aware of the impact such a confrontation can have on somebody."

When he spoke again to Mrs Leyland, on the eve of his report being broadcast, Mr Brunt gave her details of the report, which did not name her.

Asked by the coroner if there was anything in Mrs Leyland's voice which caused "real and immediate" concern for her life, Mr Brunt 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.'

"I told her we would not name her but would show her face and that we would not identify the village where she lived."

Mr Brunt said he thought Mrs Leyland's comments about "ending it all" were a throwaway remark and that he had no idea of her background history, which included a previous attempt at suicide.

Asked how he had felt after subsequently learning that Mrs Leyland had been found dead, Mr Brunt told Mrs Mason: "I was devastated, I still am and the enormity of what's happened will always be with me." 

Online Editors