Man jailed after Facebook murder case in County Durham, England

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Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Map of England with County Durham highlighted in red.

A man has been jailed after being found guilty of the kidnapping, rape, and murder of a girl in County Durham, England, after arranging to meet her on social networking website Facebook by befriending her and giving her a false identity. 33-year-old Peter Chapman, an unemployed man who has no fixed abode, registered on Facebook and in October 2009 made contact with Ashleigh Hall, a 17-year-old childcare student from Darlington.

On the website, Chapman assumed the identity of a teenage boy named Peter Cartwright. Peter convinced the girl to meet him via several other social networking websites. Reports said Hall had notified her mother that she was going to visit one of her friends. According to text messages, she believed that she was departing to meet Cartwright's father.

Ashleigh Hall's dead body was discovered in a field in the town of Sedgefield. A short time after the murder, police officers arrested Chapman for minor traffic violations. After being escorted into the police station, he told police officers of his offences while being questioned. A CCTV camera recorded Chapman saying to police officers: "I killed somebody last night." The police then followed him to the location of the body.

A police notice had been issued in relation to the disappearance of Chapman, who has been convicted in the past for previous offences and was still on parole at the time of his arrest. According to a Merseyside Police statement, the notice was not issued until nine months after they realised Chapman had disappeared from his residence. The notice was issued in September 2009, a month before Hall's murder.

Cquote1.svg Just put the message out that please, parents whose kids are on Facebook, please ask them to tell you who they're talking to. You just don't know who is behind that photo. Look what happened to my daughter. It's unimaginable, what me and my family have gone through. Cquote2.svg

—Andrea Hall

During a trial in Teesside Crown Court, Judge Peter Fox QC stated to Chapman: "This was an evil scheme very carefully brought, and with considerable detail to trap your victim." Peter Chapman was found guilty of offences of kidnap, rape, and murder. Fox sentenced him to a minimum of 35 years in prison, stating to Chapman that "[f]or what it is worth, I cannot foresee your release."

In 1996, Chapman was given a seven-year jail sentence for the rape of two prostitutes. In that incident, he threatened to attack the two prostitutes with a knife. He has also been suspected of committing several other offences of sexual attacks and rapes against young women, but was never charged in any of those instances. Chapman has been listed on the Violent and Sex Offender Register since 2000.

Andrea Hall, the mother of Ashleigh, said outside the courthouse: "Them sort of people shouldn't be allowed out into society anyway. I blame them [the authorities] for letting them out." In a video, she stated to the media: "Just put the message out that please, parents whose kids are on Facebook, please ask them to tell you who they're talking to. You just don't know who is behind that photo. Look what happened to my daughter. It's unimaginable, what me and my family have gone through. I've got three other children that probably won't have a life now because I'll never, ever keep my eye off them. I'd also like to say thank you to the community and to all my friends for the support that they have given me through this."

Facebook have also released a statement advising Internet users not to meet any individual in person that they have previously met online unless they know who the individual is. They said that "there are unscrupulous people in the world with malevolent agendas". Graham Reeds QC, who was on the prosecuting side, noted: "Having invented 19-year-old Peter to make contact with girls, he now decided to invent Peter's dad in order to persuade Ashleigh that it was safe to get into his car. The plan he devised was calculated and wicked and it worked."

The leader of the murder inquiry was Chief Superintendent Andy Reddick, who also gave his opinion about this incident. "Ashleigh made a mistake and paid for it with her life," he commented. "Her death and this murder trial should be a wake up call to parents and Internet companies around the world to ensure as far as they can, that nothing happens to another innocent victim."

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