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.
The world doesn’t want to see the deceased body of a much-loved 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 wrenching, 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.
‘Not afraid to look death in the eye’
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) work 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 Government is looking to take action
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 covers 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.