Over the past decade, the proliferation of smartphones and social media has made it easy for teenagers to live their lives on the internet, prompting many parents to worry about their children’s safety and well-being. In Surrey, England, in 2014, the case of Breck Bednar was a chilling reminder of just how dangerous the internet can be.
Breck Bednar was a bright, intelligent, year ten pupil at St. Bedes in Redhill, Surrey. His father, Barry, was a successful City oil trader originally from Houston, Texas, who went on to manage a series of companies, including Rubicon Oil Brokers. Breck’s mother, Lorin LaFave, hailed from Michigan and had previously worked for clothing companies before she became governor and teaching assistant at St. John’s C of E Primary School.1
The family had moved to the United Kingdom from the United States due to Barry’s career. Lorin also said she felt safer because the United Kingdom had stricter gun laws. 2 Unfortunately, the couple separated, but on amicable terms.3
Breck was known as an incredibly smart teenager. He had a talent for computing, electronics, and engineering and was a member of the Air Cadets with the 135 Squadron in Redhill, Surrey. He enjoyed looking after his triplet siblings, and was described by his principal, Christopher Curtis, as a pleasure to teach.4
Like many teenagers, Breck found solace and companionship on the internet, immersing himself in online gaming and making new friends. He joined an online community called TeamSpeak after being introduced to it at a church youth group. The platform was similar to Skype, allowing him to play games with his school friends and meet new ones, including two boys named Liam and Tom. Although they attended different schools, they would all chat on the server after classes.5
Initially, Breck’s parents believed the online server was a positive thing for him as it fostered socializing and interaction with like-minded individuals. Breck excelled in sports, but it was computers that were his passion and future career. Even as a young boy, he had a deep interest in computers, teaching himself code and building his own gaming computer using components purchased online.6
The server was owned and controlled by 18-year-old Lewis Daynes. Breck became close to Daynes and looked up to him. First of all, he was impressed by his extensive computer knowledge. As the relationship grew, Daynes told Breck that he worked as a computer engineer by day and had even worked for the US Defence Department as a hacker and promised Breck great wealth through a fictional software company. According to Lewis, he had ties to the FBI, ran multi-million-pound businesses and owned luxury homes in London and New York City.
In reality, Daynes was unemployed and lived in a flat in Grays, Essex. He had been abandoned by his parents and had spent his childhood and adolescence in and out of foster care. Online, he created this persona as a wealthy and successful entrepreneur and Breck was impressed. He believed that Daynes was living the kind of life that he had dreamed of for himself.
Breck’s parents became worried about his online relationship with Daynes. From the start, he gave off a false impression, speaking confidently over the microphone and pretending to be somebody he was not, which they had sussed out. Despite their concerns, Breck refused to believe that Daynes was not who he professed to be. Lorin tried to intervene and confront Daynes, but he retaliated by criticizing her parenting skills. She then received a letter from Breck in which he threatened to leave home as son as he turned 16 if she did not change her ways.
Daynes soon began to take control of Breck’s life, gradually isolating him from his friends and family. Breck spent most of his time online and Daynes influenced his thinking about religion, government, family and education. Breck had been brought up Christian, and Daynes told him that God did not exist and that his parents didn’t love him. As a result, he stopped attending church and became even more distant.
When Breck spoke to his mother, he would say things such as: “Lewis doesn’t think I should have to do chores when I don’t make any messes, Lewis doesn’t think I should have to go to church if I don’t believe in God, Lewis doesn’t think I have to finish school because he can get me an apprenticeship with Microsoft when I’m 16.”
Daynes also shared extremist videos with Breck and the other boys in the group He claimed he had donated to ISIS and suggested he planned on travelling to Syria. He then began to use Breck’s interest in computers to his advantage, offering to help him with his career ambitions and granting him access to an exclusive gaming server. However, his offer was merely a ploy to manipulate Breck even further.
As the web of lies spun by Daynes became even more tangled, the other boys in the gaming server knew they needed to intervene. Despite their warnings, Breck continued the online friendship.
In early 2014, Lorin and Barry met with the family of another boy who was in the server and expressed their concerns about the control that Daynes appeared to have over Breck. They feared that he was being groomed online. When Daynes was informed of the meeting, he asked Breck to record it and send it to him. During the conversation, Breck agreed to cut all ties with Daynes.
In just eight months, Breck’s personality had transformed completely, and his parents believed that the meeting had finally opened his eyes to the truth: that Lewis Daynes was a liar and a groomer.
Lorin then took further steps to protect her son. She limited his computer access, installed parental controls, and then banned him from Daynes’ server. She also contacted police to report her concerns that he was being groomed and that Daynes could have been involved in terrorism and radicalizing the boys. She provided them with his full name and address in Essex, but the officer who took the call seemed disinterested. There was no follow-up investigation, and the report was quietly forgotten about.
On the 16th of February, 2014, Breck told his father that he was going to a friend’s house nearby for a sleepover. Instead, however, Breck travelled two hours by a taxi which had been booked by Daynes to his flat in Grays in Essex. Lorin and Barry had believed that Breck and Lewis had cut off contact. However, after the meeting, Daynes had sent Breck a mobile phone and they had been secretly communicating. Daynes encouraged Breck to come to his flat under the premise that he was going to hand over his £135 million computer business to Breck.
Before heading to Daynes’ flat, Breck received an email from him which read: “If your father asks you where you’re going on Sunday, say meeting a friend who’s 14, who moved to Cairo last year with his mother when his parents split up. He’s invited you over to his dad’s house in Caterham for the day while he’s visiting his father.”7
The following day, Grays police received a phone call from Lewis Daynes. He calmly stated: “My friend and I got into an altercation and I’m the only one who came out alive.” He claimed that Breck had come at him with a pen-knife and that he acted him in self-defence and killed him.
Moments later, graphic photographs of Breck were sent to the other members of the online group. Daynes told Tom, one of Breck’s friends, that Breck had come to his flat feeling depressed and suicidal. He alleged that he had been attempting to prevent Breck from self-harming but had somehow managed to stab him in the neck in the scuffle. Before police and paramedics had even arrived on the scene, the grisly photographs had made their way to Breck’s 12-year-old siblings.
Paramedics arrived at the flat in Rosebery Road in Grays. Officers found Breck in Daynes’ bedroom surrounded in a pool of his own blood. They attempted to save his life but were unsuccessful. Breck was pronounced dead at the scene. He had been stabbed in the neck. Lewis Daynes was handcuffed and escorted by police to their awaiting car. Neighbours recollected that he appeared extremely pale and had blood all over his hands. He was remanded at Chelmsford Crown Court and charged with murder.
A search of Daynes apartment turned up duct tape in a bin bag as well as computer equipment that had been submerged in water. An autopsy would show that Breck had been tied up with duct tape to his wrists and ankles. He had been raped and then his throat has been slashed. Following the murder, Daynes showered, changed his clothes and called police.8
An investigation revealed that shortly before the murder, Daynes had purchased duct tape, condoms and syringes online. While behind bars, however, Daynes changed his story and instead claimed that two masked men were responsible for Breck’s murder.
Breck’s parents, driven by their grief, established The Breck Bednar Foundation to honor their son’s memory. The foundation would focus on educating young people about computer safety and the dangers of the internet. Within a week, the foundation received an overwhelming response, with donations exceeding £20,000.
On what would have been Breck’s 15th birthday, his funeral was held at St. John the Evangelist Church, near his home. The funeral procession began at Breck’s home and was led by the Redhill Air Training Corps’ pipe band, of which Breck was a member.9
Cadets formed a guard of honour as Breck’s coffin, adorned with white flowers, was carried into the church. The funeral was attended by over 600 mourners, including Breck’s school friends, teachers, and family, most of whom wore blue, Breck’s favourite colour, at Lorin’s request. Reverend Jeremy Garton presided over the service and spoke of how senseless Breck’s death was.10
On May 1st, Daynes appeared in Chelmsford Crown Court, and the murder case was adjourned until June 20th. Lewis applied for bail, which was denied. In September, he pleaded not guilty to the murder of Breck, but in November, he changed his plea to guilty. Prosecutor Richard Whitham described the murder as being motivated by sexual sadism.11
Lorin expressed her grief and devastation outside the court and urged everyone to recognize the danger of online predators. Lorin and Barry then launched a legal action against Essex and Surrey police for their handling of Lorin’s reports. They claimed that Essex police had failed to share information with Surrey police about the case. The Independent Police Complaints Commission announced that they would investigate the matter.
It was later revealed that Breck was not the first teenage boy whom Daynes had groomed online. In 2010, he had groomed a 13-year-old boy, referred to as John, whom he met while gaming online. After only a few months, Daynes told John that he had been chosen to work for the server company he established to host games. They became so close that John created a PowerPoint presentation titled “Why Lewis Should Live With Us, By Your Son.” John attempted to persuade his parents to let Daynes come and live with them, describing him as responsible, super nice, and helpful. In the presentation, John also wrote: “Whenever we are Skyping or talking, get on with me and join in and talk to him with me so you can get to know him better.”
It was later revealed that Daynes had faced five previous charges, including rape, attempted rape, engaging in sexual activity without consent, and possession of indecent images. These offences occurred in 2011, when Daynes and his victim were both 15-years-old. Daynes denied the charges and they were reported to Essex Police at the time but no action was taken and Daynes was released. However, after Breck’s murder, these offences were re-investigated and Daynes was charged with them.
The mother of Lewis’s first victim accused the police of having blood on their hands, stating that her son was only 15 years old when Lewis kidnapped him and subjected him to sexual assaults, including rape. Although the police did not pursue the case, they recorded the accusations on both the Police National Computer and the Police National Database because they considered Lewis to be a significant threat. Every police force in the UK has access to these two databases.
Breck’s family was horrified when they learned of these other offenses, which the Essex Police seemingly ignored. They wondered how a sexual predator could be let go without consequences. “When a person calls into a police number, you want a sense of security that somebody on the other end is taking it on board – you don’t phone the police for fun,” said Lorin. If the police had investigated Lorin’s claims or checked Lewis’s name in either database, they would have discovered his history of sex crimes, and perhaps they could have acted accordingly and saved Breck’s life.
In January, Daynes was back in court for the sentencing phase. His defence lawyer, Simon Mayo, argued that he had Asperger’s syndrome which “affects his ability to make sound judgements.” He added that Daynes most likely couldn’t accept that his behaviour had been sexual and sadistic. “There is insufficient evidence for the court to conclude that there was a significant degree of premeditation and planning for murder.” He described how Daynes had been in care and had felt rejected and isolated from his family and therefore, deserves leniency.
Lewis Daynes was sentenced to life in prison with a minimum of 25 years. Judge Justice Cox addressed him, stating: “You had befriended Breck and a number of other adolescent friends through an online community. Your contact with Breck increased in a sinister way. The precise details of what happened in your flat are unclear and may never be known. I’m sure that this murder was driven by sadistic or sexual motivation.”12
Shortly after the sentencing, the 999 operator who had taken Lorin’s phone call about the fears that Breck was being groomed resigned along with her supervisor. An investigation had found that the Surrey Police call handler and their supervisor had lacked knowledge of dealing with grooming concerns and that Lorin called, she provided information that should have flagged the potential risk of Breck being groomed.
Nevertheless, the phone call was reviewed by a police supervisor who ruled that no further action was required adding: “Nothing to suggest this is grooming.” The Independent Police Complaints Commission said that police needed better training so that they’re able to recognize the danger. They also criticized police for failing to carry out a check on the national computer for Daynes.13
The Independent Police Complaints Commission also ruled that Essex Police had acted accordingly with how they dealt with the rape claim against Daynes. They said that there was no realistic prospect of conviction because the victim had refused to give evidence.14
Ultimately, Surrey Police settled the claim by Lorin and Barry, who accused them of failing to protect their son. They received a pay-out from the police and an apology. In a statement, they said: “Surrey Police accept that mistakes were made in how Ms LaFave’s telephone call to them was handled and responded to; and unreservedly apologises for them.” As part of the settlement, Surrey Police agreed to implement recommended changes to their procedures to ensure that other children like Breck are protected.15
Since Breck’s death, Lorin has continued to campaign for greater awareness of online safety with her Breck Bednar Memorial Foundation whose slogan is: “Play Virtual, Live Real. She hopes that something positive can come out of Breck’s death and that his death wasn’t in vain. She often speaks at schools as well as child exploitation conferences about the perils of communicating with strangers online. “If other people recognise danger signs of predators or groomers we need the strong people, the good people, to do something about it, to save each other and help each other. “I feel Breck is saving other children and that gives me hope,” she said.
In 2017, a new law came into force making it illegal to groom a child online. The long awaited legislation in the Serious Crimes Act 2015 was labelled as “a victory for common sense” by the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children.
- The Sunday Telegraph, 19 February, 2014 – “City Trader’s Son Stabbed to Death”
- Mirror, 17 January, 2015 – “Murdered schoolboy Breck Brednar’s Mum Slams Cops after they Ignored Warning Signs over Killer”
- The Evening Standard, 19 February, 2014 – “Teen Lured to his Death on Internet”
- The Evening Standard, 20 February, 2014 – “Family’s Tribute to Intelligent and Thoughtful Boy”
- The Times, 20 February, 2014 – “Online Mystery Over the Death of Millionaire’s Son”
- Surrey Mirror, 27 February, 2014 – “Show of Support for Caterham Family”
- Thurrock Gazette, 21 February, 2014 – “Second Post-Mortem Could Be Carried Out On Stabbed Teenager”
- Daily Mirror, 12 January, 2015 – “Evidence of Sexual Activity Before Sadistic Teenager Killed 14-Year-Old Gamer”
- Evening Standard, 17 March, 2014 – “Today We Should Be Celebrating our Son’s 15th Birthday”
- Surrey Mirror, 20 March, 2014 – “Chinese Lanterns and Marching Band at Funeral”
- The Independent, 28 November, 2014 – “Lewis Daynes Trial”
- The Times, 1 December, 2014 – “Police Ignored Us, Say Dead Boy’s Parents”
- The Guardian, 25 November, 2014 – “Parents of Murdered Teenager Breck Bednar Sue Two Police Forces”
- The Guardian, 23 November, 2015 – “UK Police Forces Urged to Review Handling of Child Grooming Cases”
- The Daily Mirror, 13 January, 2015 – “Police Have Blood on their Hands”