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Twitter troll who harassed family of Madeleine McCann found dead

A news site outed her shortly before her death. 


Gavia Baker-Whitelaw


Posted on Oct 7, 2014   Updated on May 30, 2021, 11:07 am CDT

A woman who was accused of posting troll tweets about missing child Madeleine McCann has been found dead in a hotel room, just a few days after her identity was revealed on TV.

British toddler Madeleine McCann went missing in 2007, and has since become the focus of one of the biggest missing-person hunts in recent memory. Seven years on, the Madeleine McCann investigation is still a staple of British tabloid journalism, along with numerous conspiracy theories and public appeals from her parents Gerry and Kate McCann.

63-year-old Brenda Leyland was one of the many people who followed the McCann case in the news, but her obsession was more intense than most. She tweeted over 4,000 times about the McCann family, accusing them of covering up their daughter’s disappearance in Portugal.

Brenda Leyland’s identity first became public knowledge during a report by Sky News last week, in which she was confronted and asked why she had posted so many tweets about the McCann family. “I’m entitled to do that,” she answered. Then on Saturday, she was found dead in a hotel room in Leicester.

The BBC reports that her death is not being treated as suspicious. However, some people are still linking her death to the Sky News report, even creating a Facebook group calling for the Sky reporter to be fired. Although the journalist in question only referred to her by her Twitter handle @sweepyface, her face was shown on TV and her real name was quickly revealed elsewhere.

In a petition demanding for an investigation into the Sky News report, there are already plenty of comments from people who sympathise with Leyland. The McCann family may have received a lot of unwanted attention due to their high-profile search for their missing daughter, but Leyland never actually made any direct contact with them. Like many others, she posted her controversial theories and opinions online.

“Brenda Leyland did not make any death threats,” writes one petition commenter. “She voiced an opinion about the McCanns leaving their children alone and unprotected…open to harm.. which is what thousand of others both in the U.K. and abroad have done. Sky news singled out and pounced on this lady exposing her to trial by media.”

The petition targets News Corp CEO Rupert Murdoch, who indirectly controls Sky News and several of the tabloids that regularly cover the McCann investigation. Although Brenda Leyland was first branded a Twitter troll, many people now see her as yet another victim of the ever-growing media narrative surrounding the search for Madeleine McCann.

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*First Published: Oct 7, 2014, 3:15 pm CDT