I couldn’t save my child from being killed by an online predator

I approach Lorin LaFave’s house in Caterham, Surrey, set back and unlit on a long dark road. My fear is that she’s behind the door, dreading my arrival. I’m thinking how difficult it will be for her to go over the grooming and murder of her son Breck yet again – and how difficult it must be to talk about Murder Games, a BBC documentary that unpicks each turn of the case, with interviews, analysis and sinister re-enactments.

Very soon, though, Lorin curled up by the fire sipping tea in a silent house, I realise that recounting how her eldest child was lured to his death is no more or less difficult than anything else – getting up each morning, shopping, attending parents’ evening with her remaining three children. “It’s all equally hard and I kind of dread everything,” she says.

“I do these things – I do everything in a robotic way, forcing my body when, really, I’d rather sit and hide and disappear because the pain this has caused is just too deep.”

War Games is a hard programme to watch, harrowing beyond belief, but probably essential viewing for all teenagers, and teenage boys in particular. To be shown on BBC3, it will come with website links, access to advice and information on internet safety. There has also been a separate screening for teachers and charity workers via BBC Learning and BBC Outreach. “The reason I agreed to the programme is that I can’t bear to have lost the most precious thing to me for nothing,” says Lorin. “I want everyone to understand the dangers.”

Breck Bednar.

Lorin’s story starts with a son who, like so many other boys, loved gaming. Breck was born in 1999 – his American parents, Lorin and Barry, had come to the UK two years before for Barry’s work as an oil trader. Two years later, their triplets were born – Carly, Chloe and Sebastian, now 14. Though Barry and Lorin separated in 2006, Barry remained close, having the children every other weekend.

“From the start, Breck loved fixing things, taking them apart, putting them together,” says Lorin. “At school, Breck wasn’t with the footballers, he wasn’t competitive. He was in the ‘Lego gang’ – a little group who made rockets and guns and ran around playing out little fantasies.”

Later, computers drew him in. “He dismantled and rebuilt them,” says Lorin. “We didn’t buy the set-up he had. He was very resourceful, saving birthday and Christmas money, selling and exchanging parts.”

Though Breck excelled in school and was an A* student, Lorin describes him as chilled. “He never yelled, swore, slammed the door. He’d come home, get his homework done, his chores out of the way, then go online.”

Online, Breck would game. At 14, he was invited into an online gaming group – a ‘virtual clubhouse’ – by school friends. “Breck’s bedroom door was always open and he’d sit, with headphones on,” says Lorin. “There was a gaming screen where they might be on a battlefield, a screen with icons for the boys who were online and another screen for live messaging, with images or music or YouTube clips – whatever they were talking about.

“I have to say, I’d rather sit and talk face to face but I could see why they liked it. It was very interactive, social. I could hear everything they were saying – I loved hearing Breck’s laugh – and there was nothing very sinister.”

Except for one thing – the ringmaster, whose server they played on. While the other members were known to Breck or his friends, Lewis Daynes was not someone they knew in real life.

He claimed to be a 17-year-old computer engineer running a multimillion pound company. Sometimes he was in New York, working for the US government. Other times, he was in Dubai, or off to Syria. “To Breck, who still had his baby teeth and saw no evil in the world, Daynes seemed very cool, very exciting,” says Lorin.

When Lorin walked into Breck’s room, he’d say, “My mum’s come in.” While the other boys would go quiet – a mum is enough to silence most teenage boys, Daynes would say, ‘Hey, Mum!’ and start some banter. When she’d just returned from a dance class, he’d send a dancing lady across the screen.

“I might ask what was going on in New York, and he’d say, ‘Not a lot …’

“I’d ask why he wasn’t out with friends on a Friday night and he’d say he was too tired. My fear was that he was some 40-year-old paedophile sitting in his underpants.”

As the months passed, Dayne’s presence loomed larger. “I’d get a lot of ‘Lewis says …’,” Lorin says. “‘Lewis says I don’t need to finish school as he can get me a Microsoft apprenticeship when I turn 16.’ ‘Lewis says as I don’t drink or smoke and do well in school, I should be allowed to game as long as I want …’”

It became harder to get Breck offline, to do his homework or his chores. (“Lewis says I shouldn’t have to do chores as it’s the triplets who make the mess.”) When Lorin walked into Breck’s room, Daynes now sent images of wicked witches or goose-stepping Hitlers on screen. “I’d be telling Breck to get offline and he’d literally have Dayne’s voice in his earphones telling him not to listen. I could see Breck’s face, torn between me or his cool mentor who had the whole world going for him.”

Lorin believes if it was a daughter enthralled by an online stranger, she would have been taken more seriously. “I worked as a teaching assistant, I asked staff, teachers, other parents and not one person thought it sounded dangerous,” she says. “They’d say, ‘Oh, that’s what boys do.’ Or ‘My son was a gamer – he grew out of it.’”

Both Lorin and Barry offered to take Breck to meet Daynes. “I wanted him to not show up and prove he wasn’t who he claimed to be, but Daynes wouldn’t. He was too busy with ‘important work’.”

In December 2013, Lorin could take no more. “I knew I needed to do something so I did the biggest thing I could and dialled the police on 101. I told the call handler what I’d heard, what I feared. She obviously didn’t understand online grooming. She asked if Breck could just play on another website or if I could ask Lewis not to contact my son again. If it was that easy, I’d have done it! I gave her Lewis Dayne’s full name and his county – and by the end, I honestly believed he’d be checked in the Police National Computer.”

Lorin and Breck.

Had this happened, police would have seen that Lorin had good reason to be afraid. Lewis Daynes had led a troubled life – his parents had divorced, his mother had left the country, he’d spent time in the care of his grandmother and his local authority. Now 18, he was unemployed, living alone in an Essex flat where he bought server space and used it to game with teenage boys. In 2011, he’d been accused of raping a boy and possessing indecent images, though he was not charged.

“In my dream life, the police look him up, then come and tell Breck who Daynes really is,” says Lorin.

Instead, she heard nothing. She confiscated Breck’s computer equipment and organised a meeting with Barry, Breck, another boy from the gaming group and his parents where they set out their suspicions.

But Daynes was one step ahead. He couriered a phone to Breck so they could communicate and persuaded Breck to record the meeting about him so he knew what was said. “From then on, he knew we were on to him,” says Lorin. “It sent everything underground.”

Realising that time was running out, police have now established that Daynes began to claim he was ill and dying – too weak to run his company. He’d decided to hand it over to Breck, if Breck could come to his flat in Essex and learn how to take it over.

It’s not the grooming we associate with girls and predatory paedophiles, nor the kind we warn our children to watch for. “This wasn’t sexting,” says Lorin. “Police didn’t find a single image or text about bodies or sex. Breck thought their relationship was about technology and computers.”

Daynes, meanwhile, was out buying duct tape and condoms.

On Sunday 16 February 2014, Breck took a £100 taxi ride to Daynes’s home (Daynes paid). It was the start of half term and he was staying with his father, but told him he was going to his friend Tom’s to build a new server. Later, he texted to ask if he could stay the night there.

What happened in Daynes’s flat is still unknown. “Unfortunately, you do try to imagine,” says Lorin.

“At some point, the tables turned and Breck must have thought, oh my God, my mum was right – and it would have been too late. My heart breaks to think how scared he must have been to be tied up and gagged and stabbed by someone he trusted so much.”

Dayne’s utterly calm, utterly chilling 999 call on the Monday morning is played on the opening of War Games. “My friend and I got into an altercation … and I’m the only one who came out alive.”

Barry and Lorin’s life now crossed into the realms of a horror flick. Daynes had cut Breck’s throat, photographed his body and sent the image to other members of the gaming group. The news quickly spread between phones to reach Breck’s siblings just as police were informing their father.

Daynes later pleaded guilty to murder with sexual and sadistic motivation and was sentenced to life imprisonment.

“It’s incomprehensible,” says Lorin. “I have to carry on for the other children, but I’ve aged 100 years. The triplets lost their youth. They went from 12 to teen, from ‘yay, happy, poopoo’ to ‘duct tape, murder, stabbing’. I didn’t know Daynes was a murderer but I knew he was dangerous. All I’d done with police, with other parents, with Breck, all the rules I’d had, the talking we did … it all failed.”

Before the funeral, while they were still waiting for Breck’s body to be released, Lorin decided to set up the Breck Foundation to raise awareness on internet safety. She speaks at schools, conferences, to parents and police.

“When I was worried about Breck, no one I turned to understood or knew what I should do,” she says. “Boys may report this less but I want everyone to understand that they can be groomed and hurt – maybe not murdered but hurt in other ways – by people who are not who they say they are online. I want police to understand what grooming is so that when a parent calls with a name, it will go into the system.

“There’s nothing worse than thinking you could have saved your child and didn’t. I cannot bear for another family to go through this.”

Murder Games: The Life and Death of Breck Bednar is on BBC3 on 26 January, 9pm. Information on the Breck campaign: breckbednar.com

The father’s story: Barry Bednar

Barry Bednar, Breck’s father. Photograph: Grab/Rare Day Ltd

“I think the programme shows children, parents and teachers how quickly something can change from good to bad. At the beginning, the gaming seemed like fantastic fun – when Breck first showed me I thought it was the coolest thing. And for Breck, it wasn’t just the games. He built his own computers, he was into coding, he was passionate about technology. It turned horrible very fast.

Lorin and I were separated but I’d always seen a lot of Breck. We were very close. We talked all the time – even when he was playing that crazy game, he’d always get off when I called. He’d game when he was at my house too. I’d hear Daynes’s voice but Daynes never talked to me the way he talked to Lorin, maybe because I’m a man. I was worried, though. I knew his stories were outlandish. No 17-year-old would be running a major consulting firm, working for the US defence. Like Lorin, I thought he might be a paedophile and I told Breck that if he wanted to keeping talking to this guy, I needed to meet him first. I offered to go along with Breck to meet Daynes but that never materialised.

By the December before Breck was murdered, I was worried enough to move back from London to be very close. I had the children for half term and when Breck told me he was going to see a friend, I was happy that he was doing something that wasn’t online. Later, when he texted to say he wanted to stay the night, that they’d ordered pizza, I was still happy. We really don’t know if Breck sent the text himself or what happened that day or evening. I can only hope that, at first, he did have fun. I’ve been to Daynes’s flat – it’s a dump. But perhaps, to a 14-year-old, this place with no parents was great.

There’s no word for the impact except devastating. One thing that gets me through is seeing families like the McCanns, or the parents of Milly Dowler who was missing for six months before her body was found. At least we know where Breck is. We know the person who killed him and he’s in jail.

As a parent you’re supposed to look after your child. We knew there was a problem but still Breck was murdered. If the police had looked Daynes up and told Breck that he wasn’t who he claimed to be, that probably would have stopped everything. I believe that if Breck had been a girl, we’d have been taken more seriously.”

Online grooming: What you need to know

A new friendship or relationship may not appear to be about sex – there may be no sexual references as the groomer builds the relationship. It might not make your child uncomfortable, so it can be hard to recognise that they are being groomed. Breck enjoyed his relationship with Daynes.

It may take others to spot what is really going on – perhaps another teenager worried that a friend is being controlled. Maybe that teenager confides in a parent. That parent isn’t sure whether to intervene. Young people should be on their guard not just for themselves but for other children. Act on concerns by telling a parent or teacher.

If you are worried that a child or young person is being groomed online, report it to the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre. All reports are reviewed by child protection social workers. The Child sex offender disclosure scheme (Sarah’s Law) allows the public to check whether people in contact with their children have a criminal record for child sex offences.

To discuss concerns initially, call the NSPCC Helpline 0800 800 5000

More information: www.thinkuknow.co.uk/

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