The parents of a schoolboy murdered by an internet ‘predator’ insisted last night that he would still be alive today if police had listened to their plea for help.
Breck Bednar, 14, was fatally stabbed in the neck by computer engineer Lewis Daynes who ‘groomed’ him through an internet gaming forum.
Yet two months earlier, Breck’s mother Lorin LaFave detailed all her concerns about Daynes to Surrey Police in a 30-minute phone call. Tragically, she wasn’t taken seriously.
‘No one bothered to call me back, which was unforgivable,’ she said. ‘I gave them Daynes’s full name, the fact that he lived in Essex, but they did nothing. If they had acted on my information I have no doubt that this would not have happened.’
According to Surrey Police’s own procedures, the phone call should have triggered an investigation to identify whether there was any ‘immediate or critical risk’.
If none is established within 24 hours, the guidance states that a specialist officer should still arrange a meeting with parents within ten days and then conduct further ‘research into the person you are enquiring about’.
Ms LaFave said that because she and her ex-husband heard nothing back ‘we assumed Daynes didn’t pose the threat we feared’.
The Mail on Sunday can reveal that in another disturbing aspect of the case, 19-year-old Daynes sent photographs of Breck’s dead body to two of the schoolboy’s friends within hours of the ‘sexually or sadistically motivated’ attack.
At the time, Breck’s parents were frantic because he had not returned home, but they had not yet been told he was dead.
During a phone call to another friend of her son, who had heard about the pictures, Ms LaFave was told: ‘Breck’s really unwell… he’s with Lewis.’
The photographs led to news of Breck’s death circulating on the internet before his father was able to break the news to his brother and two sisters: 12-year-old triplets Carly, Chloe and Sebastian. In fact, they heard by text message.
In a moving interview that will strike a chill into parents’ hearts, Ms LaFave, 47, and her ex-husband, Barry Bednar, 49, recalled their anguish as their ‘beautiful, loving’ son became locked under Daynes’s Svengali-like spell – and spoke of their torment at the thought of his final hours.
The day before, February 16, Breck told his father he was going to visit a schoolfriend. Instead he travelled by taxi from his Surrey home to Daynes’s flat in Grays, Essex, because the engineer had apparently promised to upgrade his computer. Daynes paid the taxi fare.
Beyond the fact that they ordered takeaway pizza, his parents know little about what happened next, and, indeed, may never know why Breck was murdered.
‘I can’t begin to explain my feeling of helplessness and terror when I think of what Breck must have felt when the penny finally dropped and he realised he was in grave danger,’ said Mr Bednar.
‘I hope that that was for a very short period of time. This is one of my most recurring nightmares.’
Last week, having previously denied murder, Daynes pleaded guilty just as his trial was about to start at Chelmsford Crown Court. He is due to be sentenced in January. Breck’s parents also spoke of how:
Daynes ‘controlled’ an exclusive internet gaming group made up of six boys – and used the threat of expulsion ‘to keep them in line’
Breck was introduced to the group by friends at a church youth club.
They had concerns about Daynes from the outset and wanted to meet him – but he refused saying Ms LaFave was ‘too judgmental’.
Ms LaFave confronted Daynes online to try to stop him manipulating Breck only to be told by the killer that she should grant her son more computer time – and stop making him do chores.
They eventually banned their son from playing games and communicating with Daynes online.
Daynes peddled ludicrous stories of how he had previously worked for the US Defense Department – and made £2.5million on an investment in Bitcoin which he gave away to Syrian rebels.
After the murder Breck’s parents were upset to see their son portrayed publicly as socially awkward. They insist the opposite was true and that in many ways he was a model son – confident, bright, well-mannered, conscientious – who had many friends.
‘If it could happen to Breck, it could happen to anyone’s son,’ said Mr Bednar, a financier and former chairman of a Baltic Exchange advisory body.
‘He didn’t fit the computer-geek stereotype of a troubled, uncommunicative boy, locked away in his room. It just wasn’t like that. And that’s one of the reasons why what happened is so shocking.’
The couple, who divorced in 2006, moved to London from the United States 17 years ago when Mr Bednar got a new job as an oil futures trader.
They had struggled for years to have children and after they underwent fertility treatment, Breck was born in 1999 at the Portland Hospital in Central London.
‘It was a joyful, very special time. I was such a proud mother, as happy as could be, and Breck was a beautiful boy and such a good baby,’ said Ms LaFave.
After the US, ‘the absence of a gun culture’ in their adopted country made Ms LaFave feel secure. ‘I adored London and I took Breck out every day in his pram.’
Two-and-a-half years later she gave birth to triplets and the family moved to Weybridge, Surrey.
‘Breck was never jealous of the triplets, he loved them, and he was a great little helper for me, always wanting to do little jobs like fetching nappies,’ said Ms LaFave.
‘And he was always taking things apart and putting them back together. Our gardener said he was a boy genius. It was clear he was technically minded and we could see him growing up to be an architect or an engineer, like his two grandfathers.’
Though her life was chaotic, Ms LaFave relished being a mother. But her husband was under intense pressure at work and he admits that it meant he was not always the easiest person to live with.
Cracks in the couple’s relationship later proved irreparable and the marriage foundered.
Ms LaFave moved to Caterham, Surrey, with the children who, despite the break-up, continued to excel at school, none more so than Breck.
Ms LaFave moved to Caterham, Surrey, with the children who, despite the break-up, continued to excel at school, none more so than Breck.
‘We never had any problems with him, he was in all the top groups and he was happy,’ said his mother. ‘While he wasn’t naturally sporty he was an excellent swimmer and a good hockey player.
‘And as I was now a single mother, he became my right-hand man.’
When his father lost his job, Breck was taken out of his fee-paying school and moved to a Church of England comprehensive, where he continued to shine academically. Outside of school, Breck joined the Army Air Corps, which he was ‘passionate about as he wanted to be a pilot’. He also enjoyed a Sunday evening church youth group called Pulse Plus.
Like many boys his age, Breck was already keen on video games and computers and through two friends from Pulse was introduced to an internet forum called TeamSpeak.
It allowed users to speak on a ‘chat channel’, much like a telephone conference call, and play games at the same time.
The server that the group played and communicated on was owned and controlled by Lewis Daynes.
‘Breck always kept his bedroom door open and I would often go in to see him, which he was fine about,’ said his mother.
‘At first there was no cause for alarm. You could hear the voices of his friends coming out of the speaker and they were shouting instructions to each other as they played. I’d have preferred him to be out on his bike, and see his friends face to face.
‘But Breck said they saw each other at school. He said: “This is the way we like to socialise.”’
Ms LaFave added: ‘I never let Breck play for more than two hours a night and he was rarely, if ever, allowed TV during the week.
‘We installed parental controls which meant he couldn’t use the internet after 9pm.’
It soon became clear that the boys in the group looked up to Daynes, largely because of his computer skills.
‘If I went into the room, Breck would announce to the group that his mum was in the room and Lewis – as we called him then – would always say “Hi, Mum, how are you?” and we’d have a pleasant little chat.’
But something soon began to concern her: Daynes’s avatar, or profile picture, was a good-looking teenager in pink bow tie. ‘It didn’t quite fit in with the macho war game they played,’ she said.
‘In the back of my mind was this fear that he wasn’t 17, as he said, but a fat 40-year-old paedophile.
‘He said he was from Essex but lived in New York, which I learned later was a lie.
‘Sometimes I would speak to him about New York and once asked jokingly why, as it was a Friday night, he wasn’t on a hot date. But he simply didn’t reveal anything personal about himself.’
Breck’s parents grew even more concerned when Daynes started telling obvious lies about his work. He also tried to convince Breck and the other boys in the group that they didn’t need to finish school as he would arrange £100,000-a-year computer technology jobs for them.
‘We told Breck that this couldn’t possibly be true,’ said his father. ‘I said that he might turn out to be a terrific guy but the fact was we simply didn’t know who he was.
‘By now Daynes was claiming to be back in London so we suggested, and Breck agreed, that he should ask him if we could all meet up for a coffee. Daynes refused.’
Ms LaFave added: ‘Daynes was anti-government, anti-church, anti-everything and was filling the boys’ heads with this stuff.
‘Another fear we had was that he might be a terrorist and was preparing the boys for some kind of mission. Breck did what he was told and never answered back, and was such a great son, but it was becoming clear that Daynes was manipulating him.’
Once, he stopped him going to Army Air Corps because another boy in the group, who also went to AAC, had disagreed with Daynes about something.
‘He was playing them off against each other and using the threat of being frozen out of the group to keep them in line.’
Breck’s parents believe that Daynes might have become obsessed with their son because he saw him as a ‘challenge’.
Ms LaFave said: ‘Unlike the other boys, Breck shared all that was going on with us and Dayne was well aware of this.’
By late 2013, Ms LaFave had decided to confront Daynes online using the forum’s messaging facility. ‘I tried to be reasonable and started off by saying: “It’s difficult when you try to tell me how to raise Breck.”
‘He [Daynes] asked why I made Breck go to church because he said Breck didn’t believe in God.
‘I said we go to church as a family, we do things as a family; it was important to us. But he wrote back, “How can you force your beliefs down someone else’s throat?”
‘He also said I should let Breck play on the computer as much as he wants because he gets good grades, doesn’t drink, doesn’t do drugs. He said, “You should be happy that you have a son doing so well.”
‘Every point I made he countered. He even asked why Breck should have to do chores when he never made a mess.
‘He said he shouldn’t have to clear up after the triplets.
‘So finally I said, “Listen I am his mum, I know what is right for Breck, you need to stop telling me and him what to do and that is that!”. I thought why the heck am I arguing with someone I don’t even know – that none of us knew. It was really bizarre.’
On December 17, Ms LaFave called Surrey Police with her strong fears that Breck was being groomed. ‘The woman listened but seemed detached,’ she said.
Two day later, Ms LaFave and Mr Bednar arranged a meeting with the parents of another one of the boys and it was agreed that they should leave the internet group and cut all ties to Daynes
For a while it appeared to work – ‘we listened but could no longer hear any mention of Daynes while they were playing’ – yet the reality was, unbeknown to the parents, they were all still in contact.
In the week before he was killed, Breck went on a Spanish exchange trip through his school and returned ‘happier than ever because he got a Spanish girlfriend’.
But the following day, a Sunday, he told his father that he was visiting a schoolfriend.
‘I was pleased to see him getting out and seeing his friends face to face rather than online,’ recalled Mr Bednar.
‘He texted me later to ask if he could stay the night and I agreed.’
Ms LaFave said: ‘He was killed on my birthday. I can’t even go out in public on my own now.
‘I can only manage to do one or two things a day now – my brain has been so damaged by the shock.
‘It’s not me any more – it’s just a shell of me.
‘When I got the call confirming he was dead, I just screamed uncontrollably for quite a long time and doctors had to sedate me.
‘My ear was buzzing. It still buzzes now and my hearing has totally deteriorated in that ear – the ear that I heard the bad news in.’
Now, everywhere she goes, Ms LaFave carries a book of photographs of Breck. In one, Breck, aged three months, is sitting outside the large front door of their home near Sloane Square in Chelsea.
‘It was taken at such a happy time. I went back there a few months after the murder and sat at the spot where Breck sat and cried my eyes out, utterly destroyed,’ she said.
‘A kind man stopped and asked me if I was OK, if he could help. And I told him about the murder and by the end he was in tears too.’
Both Surrey and Essex police forces are now facing a legal claim from Breck’s family and an investigation by the Independent Police Complaints Commission.
Surrey’s Assistant Chief Constable Gavin Stephens said: ‘This has been a tragic case and our thoughts remain with Breck’s friends and family. A review of practices in our call-handling centre has since been carried out and changes have been implemented to improve the way information is handled and shared.’
Mail on Sunday On Line 30/11/14