THE BRU­TALLY VI­O­LENT WEB­SITES OF DEATH

We went in search of the graphic in­ter­net sites that fas­ci­nated a school­boy who went on to kill his step­mother. We found them all too eas­ily.

Wales On Sunday - - FRONT PAGE - ROBERT HARRIES Re­porter robert.harries@waleson­line.co.uk

WHO CAN CLOSE THEM DOWN?:

IN THE days and weeks be­fore he killed his step­mother with an axe and a sa­mu­rai sword, a Car­marthen­shire teenager had ac­cessed im­ages of mur­der on the in­ter­net.

In the min­utes that fol­lowed, he tried to up­load pic­tures of Fiona Scour­field’s body on­line so that the world could see what he had done.

If there is a crumb, and it’s a very small crumb, of com­fort from the hor­rific tale of Rueben Brath­waite, who mur­dered Fiona Scour­field out­side their home near Laugh­arne ear­lier this year, it’s that his at­tempts at shar­ing the im­ages failed.

Most of the world doesn’t want to see the de­ceased body of a muchloved and innocent 54-year-old woman.

But – and this is the hor­rific re­al­ity of it – it seems that a part of the world does.

Be­fore Brath­waite was sen­tenced to a life sen­tence on Fri­day morn­ing, those gath­ered at Swansea Crown Court were told that he had “de­vel­oped an in­ter­est in mur­der” and had been ac­cess­ing “im­ages of killings of some bru­tal­ity”.

He looked at ma­te­rial con­cern­ing mass killings, sui­cides and be­head­ings.

Surely this kind of ma­te­rial is not read­ily avail­able for any­one to ac­cess?

Is it that sim­ple? Can your chil­dren ac­cess this ma­te­rial on their phones? The sick­en­ing answer is yes. A quick Google search leads me to a gore web­site. It’s not blocked, it’s right there. The site warns that im­ages and videos posted are “gut wrench- ing, of­fen­sive and up­set­ting”, but goes on to say that it is an im­por­tant site be­cause it re­ports on events that are of in­ter­est to the pub­lic.

It clar­i­fies that all the ma­te­rial hosted on the site is lim­ited to adults only, and strictly warns those un­der the age of 18 to leave the site.

It also claims that it tries to “present graphic ma­te­rial taste­fully” but goes on to boast that it show­cases im­ages and videos of be­head­ings, sui­cides, mur­ders, drown­ing, car crashes, an­i­mal at­tacks, bomb vic­tims (of­ten in­volv­ing chil­dren), gen­i­tal mu­ti­la­tion, and much more.

On the very first page of con­tent a man is seen self-harm­ing. Scroll down and there’s an im­age of a man hold­ing a hu­man head. Other pic­tures show a man at­tack­ing two other men with a pick axe, a fire­man fall­ing to his death from a tall build­ing, the af­ter­math of an at­tack on a trans­gen­der per­son who was set on fire, and a live stream of a man com­mit­ting sui­cide.

This ma­te­rial is about two clicks from your search en­gine. Your child could ac­cess this to­day. How is that OK?

An­other site ac­cessed eas­ily has a pic­ture of what ap­pears to be a de­ceased girl on the land­ing page. Un­der­neath the hor­ri­ble im­age is an at­tempt at jus­ti­fi­ca­tion.

“Some may say we’re weird for ac­tively seek­ing out such con­tent but we’re not. We are cu­ri­ous, we are not afraid to look death in the eye.”

They do have some site rules, how­ever. No per­sonal at­tacks, no pla­gia­rism, and no spam. That’s it. Noth­ing about post­ing pic­tures of real-life hor­rors.

Some­thing more in­cred­i­ble is writ­ten un­der the rules sec­tion of an­other site. On this par­tic­u­lar web­site it’s made clear that mem­bers may not post “grotesque im­ages” or posts con­tain­ing racism, un­less it’s posted on a cer­tain sec­tion of the site.

One of the most re­mark­able de­tails dis­closed at Fri­day’s court case was that Brath­waite only failed to up­load im­ages of his dead step­mother’s body to the in­ter­net be­cause he was

banned from a site like this.

This begs the question: with the lax con­trols in op­er­a­tion on such web­sites, just how bad was the teenager’s pre­vi­ous be­hav­iour that he found him­self to be banned?

An­other key question is: just how is this kind of ma­te­rial ac­ces­si­ble to any­one, even chil­dren?

It seems that there is a lack of clar­ity with re­gards to leg­is­la­tion and re­spon­si­bil­ity over these sites, ex­ist­ing as they do in the vast and at times un­reg­u­lated ocean that is the in­ter­net in 2018.

The In­ter­net Watch Foun­da­tion (IWF) works tire­lessly to min­imise the avail­abil­ity of child sex­ual abuse im­ages avail­able on­line, but their re­mit does not ex­tend specif­i­cally to ex­treme im­ages of mur­der or tor­ture.

Fur­ther calls were made to a host of dif­fer­ent or­gan­i­sa­tions: the Home Of­fice, Dyfed-Powys Po­lice, the Metropoli­tan Po­lice, the Na­tional Crime Agency (NCA) and the Na­tional Po­lice Chiefs Coun­cil.

The answers all seemed to be the same; no­body re­ally knew whether im­ages of this na­ture could be re­moved, or by whom. No­body could con­firm that it was their di­rect re­spon­si­bil­ity to mon­i­tor sites that house such ma­te­rial, in the man­ner that the IWF does for im­ages of child abuse, the NCA does for se­ri­ous and or­gan­ised crime, and the Metropoli­tan Po­lice does for ter­ror­ism.

The in­ter­net has clearly changed the ev­ery­day chal­lenges faced by po­lice, as it has the pos­si­bil­i­ties for those who want to see im­ages that are de­signed to shock peo­ple to their very cores. The UK Gov­ern­ment is now up against a dif­fi­cult and com­plex beast, but, they in­sist, work is be­ing done.

It con­firmed that any im­ages or acts on­line that “in­cite, as­sist or en­cour­age” vi­o­lence are il­le­gal, and that a re­view is un­der way into how vi­o­lent and ex­treme ma­te­rial is dealt with.

A spokesman for the Gov­ern­ment said: “It is an of­fence to in­cite, as­sist or en­cour­age vi­o­lence on­line.

“The Crown Prose­cu­tion Ser­vice is cur­rently re­view­ing its le­gal guid­ance on ob­scene publi­ca­tions which cov- ers ex­tremely vi­o­lent on­line ma­te­rial.”

What hap­pened on the evening of Tues­day, March 6, on a quiet and serene farm out­side Laugh­arne will haunt the area for years.

Brath­waite, who had re­turned from school ear­lier that day, had tea with Fiona Scour­field and then pro­ceeded to strike her sev­eral times with the blunt side of an axe be­fore slic­ing her throat with a sword.

It’s a fair as­sump­tion that some­thing he had seen or read on­line had com­pelled him to carry out one of the most shock­ing mur­ders in re­cent times. And that, per­haps, is the most shock­ing thing of all.

Fiona Scour­field, who was mur­dered by her step­son Rueben Brath­waite

A viewer looks at a web­site about mass killings, sui­cides and be­head­ings that con­victed killer Rueben Brath­waite had be­come fas­ci­nated with

ALED LLYWELYN

Po­lice out­side the home of Fiona Scour­field fol­low­ing her mur­der

ROB NOR­MAN

17-year-old Rueben Brath­waite, who has been jailed for life

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