LONDON — A woman who was accused of sending Internet abuse to the parents of missing girl Madeleine McCann has been found dead in a hotel room. Her death has revived debate about media responsibility and how best to respond to online “trolls.”
Television channel Sky News identified 63-year-old Brenda Leyland as a Twitter user who had attacked Kate and Gerry McCann under the name “sweepyface.”
Last week, a Sky News reporter confronted Leyland – who lived in the same county as the McCanns – on camera about the alleged abuse. She replied that she was entitled to send the tweets.
Police confirmed that Leyland’s body was found in a hotel room near Leicester in central England on Saturday.
“Ms. Leyland’s death is not being treated as suspicious and a file is being prepared for the coroner,” police said. “Officers acting on behalf of the coroner will look into the circumstances surrounding and prior to her unexpected death.”
Sky News said Monday it was saddened by Leyland’s death but that it would be “inappropriate to speculate or comment further.”
Madeleine McCann disappeared from a Portuguese vacation resort in May 2007 during a family holiday, days before her fourth birthday. The still-unsolved disappearance sparked intense media interest around the world.
The McCanns have complained about media intrusion, and are suing a former Portuguese detective over a 2008 book that alleged they were involved in their daughter’s disappearance.
Last week police said they were examining a dossier of material about the McCanns from social media and online forums.
On Friday, Gerry McCann said the family had been subjected to threats of violence and kidnapping.
“I think we probably need more people charged,” he told the BBC.
“I’m glad to see the law around this area is being reviewed. But I do think we need to make examples of people who are causing damage.”
Posts on the “sweepyface” account called the McCanns’ “evil” and “criminals,” but didn’t appear to threaten the couple. The tweets expressed doubt about the McCanns’ explanation of their daughter’s disappearance and criticized their conduct in the years since.