Jackie Brambles: the tragedy of stranger danger on the web

Breck Bednars mother Lorin with presenter Jackie Brambles
Breck Bednars mother Lorin with presenter Jackie Brambles
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How do you greet the mother of a murdered child? How should I address Lorin LaFave, who lost her 14-year-old son Breck to an online predator, when we first meet?

Should I say I’m “delighted” to meet her, is it the less formal “lovely” to meet her or is it a business-like “good” to meet her – because the only reason she’s talking to me with cameras rolling, for our STV series Stopping Scotland’s Scammers, is to reveal the details of how her son was scammed to death.

Scammed into believing the sincerity of an online gaming “friend”, Lewis Daynes, whom Breck met in person for the very first time on what would be the very last day of his life. Daynes bound him, stabbed him and then calmly called 999 to report an accidental death.

In truth, I had dreaded this interview. It’s not the first time I’ve interviewed the families of murder victims, but it’s only the second time in my 30-year career as a broadcast journalist that I have woken up with a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach and not wanted to do a job I love. The first time was at Ground Zero.

As it turned out, Lorin was warm, compelling and as utterly devastated as I expected. Since her son was ripped from her life, she has scrambled to keep her sanity intact by pouring her energies into mothering Breck’s three siblings through this nightmare and setting up The Breck Foundation, an online resource that endeavours to give children guidance in negotiating safe virtual friendships whilst playing online.

As Breck’s teenage technology-loving head was turned by the grandiose promises of a high-flying IT career concocted by Daynes, Lorin did everything that she could to stop it. She tried to engage Daynes only to be ridiculed. She confiscated her son’s computer only to later find out that Daynes had then secretly trafficked a phone to Breck in order to continue communications. And finally she went to the police only to be dismissed. Had the 101 call handler run his name through a police database, Daynes’ prior allegations of grooming and attempted rape of a 15-year-old boy might have come to light.

Lorin now feels that could have given her the proof she needed to convince her son that he was indeed in mortal danger. Earlier this week, following the conclusion of Lorin’s legal proceedings against Surrey Police, its Police and Crime Commissioner Kevin Hurley apologised unreservedly for those mistakes saying: “Police databases that might have revealed the threat Breck was facing were not checked properly.” In addition to financial compensation, at Lorin and her ex-husband Barry Bednar’s insistence, part of the settlement will be their ongoing involvement in changing the bungled procedures that, she believes, cost her son his life in the deadliest scam of all.

Without doubt, throughout the filming of all four programmes of Stopping Scotland’s Scammers, meeting Lorin LaFave left me the most affected and my own two children under 10 will pay the price for a long time to come. Only this week, a free emoji app they were badgering me to download, turned out to be a Trojan horse that would give the developer access to their iPods and therefore, them.

Talk about the end of innocence. I also spent time with Detective Inspector Eamonn Keane of Police Scotland’s Cybercrime Unit. DI Keane is passionate in his endeavours to educate the public about negotiating this brave new technological world safely. His advice to parents? “Be engaged, be intrusive, be up to speed. Just because your kids are upstairs in their rooms doesn’t mean they’re safe from harm. What games are they playing, who are they playing with and how are those online relationships developing? Think of the internet as a place your children go. If you wouldn’t let them play alone in a park with strangers, why would you allow that to occur in the virtual world?”

So, is there a silver lining in this technological doomsday scenario? According to Keane, there is huge career potential in ethical hacking, as large corporations who are quietly haemorrhaging money to cyber criminals cry out for brilliant young minds to stop scammers in their tracks. University courses in Ethical Hacking and Cyber Security are proliferating rapidly, primary schools are forming Coding Clubs and the financial rewards for graduates are extremely alluring. It sounds like the kind of career that Breck would have loved.

• Jackie Brambles presents Stopping Scotland’s Scammers, STV, tomorrow, 8pm