McCann 'Twitter troll' Brenda Leyland 'killed herself'

Brenda Leyland Image copyright Brenda Leyland
Image caption Brenda Leyland was said to use the handle @sweepyface on Twitter

A woman who "trolled" Madeleine McCann's family on Twitter killed herself days after she was challenged by reporters, an inquest concluded.

Brenda Leyland, 63, from Leicestershire, was found dead after she was confronted by Martin Brunt from Sky News over the abuse.

Mr Brunt told the inquest in Leicester he had been "devastated" by her death.

Coroner Catherine Mason concluded she had killed herself and called for sales of helium to be regulated.

Confronted at home

The inquest heard that divorcee Mrs Leyland, of Burton Overy, posted 400 tweets about the McCann family between November 2013 and September 2014.

Madeleine went missing while on a family holiday in Portugal in 2007.

Mr Brunt told the inquest he and a cameraman confronted Mrs Leyland after Sky News obtained a dossier of alleged Twitter "trolls" handed to police.

She initially told him she was "entitled" to send the messages, later inviting him into her home for an interview.

Image copyright PA
Image caption Gerry McCann, with his wife Kate, previously told the BBC more needed to be done about online abuse

He told the hearing he kept her informed of his plans - which included picturing but not naming her - because he was aware it could have an impact.

Asked by the coroner if there was anything which indicated a concern for her life, Mr Brunt said: "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'".

He said he thought her comments were a throwaway remark and had no idea about her history of depression or a previous attempt at suicide.

She was found dead in a Leicester hotel after an overdose on 4 October.

"I was devastated, I still am and the enormity of what's happened will always be with me," Mr Brunt added.

'Panic and fear'

The court also heard evidence from her son Ben, who said he believed the confrontation had been the final straw.

In a statement, he said he believed she was "completely destroyed" by what had occurred.

He said he heard "panic and fear" in her voice when he spoke to her after the Sky interview.

A Sky News spokesman said the news team had followed its editorial guidelines "in a responsible manner", adding the story was "firmly in the public interest".

"Brenda Leyland's tragic death highlights the unforeseeable human impact that the stories we pursue can have, and Sky News would like to extend its sincere condolences to her family," the Sky statement said.

None of the messages sent by Mrs Leyland were directed personally at the McCanns, who have "no significant presence" on social media.

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