A woman who used social media to attack the parents of missing British girl Madeleine McCann was found dead in a British hotel Saturday, after police launched an investigation last week into the Internet abuse.
Brenda Leyland, 63, was the focus of a Sky News report after Metro police told the news organization they were looking into death threats and bullying on the Internet.
"Police were called at 1:42 p.m. on Saturday, 4 October, to a report of a body of a woman in a hotel room in Smith Way, Grove Park, Leicester,” a spokesman for Leicestershire Police told Sky.
The body has now been formally identified as Leyland and a coroner is expected to file a report on her cause of death. Police said her death is not being treated as suspicious.
Madeleine McCann was 3 years old when she disappeared from her family’s vacation apartment at a resort in Praia da Luz, Portugal, in 2007. Madeleine’s parents, Kate and Gerry McCann, were initially under suspicion until police ruled them out as suspects. They and police have been pursuing leads on the case in the years since she vanished.
British police told Sky last week they were looking into reports of Internet abuse targeting the McCanns, and had more than 80 pages of Tweets, Facebook posts and messages from online forums harassing the couple.
Some included suggestions that the McCanns should be tortured and killed and called for them to "burn in hell." Messages were also directed at Madeleine's younger siblings, twins who are now 9 years old.
Some posts said: "I hope that the McCanns are living in total misery" and "I want to see them smashed up the back of a bus or trampled by horses."
Sky News reporter Martin Brunt confronted Leyland on camera last week, accusing her of posting messages using the #mccann hashtag and attacking the family under the Twitter handle @sweepyface.
She replied: "I'm entitled to."
If you are a troll who is bashing the McCanns, I want you to consider that that puts you in the same category as the woman who just committed suicide. You are borderline lunatic fringe! Stop it and grow up!
Many on social media expressed anger toward the so-called internet “trolls,” following news of the investigation into abuse of the McCanns.
But there were also those who voiced support for @Sweepyface.
Leyland deactivated her Twitter account after the Sky report aired.
"Clearly something needs to be done about the abuse on the Internet,” Gerry McCann told the BBC Friday, before word of Leyland’s death.
“I think we probably need more people to be charged,” McCann added.
He said his family does not read posts about themselves on the Internet because it was too "upsetting."
Sky issued a statement saying: "We were saddened to hear of the death of Brenda Leyland. It would be inappropriate to speculate or comment further at this time," the BBC reported Monday.