A 19-year-old man has been jailed for life for the murder of a 14-year-old boy he met online. Described by investigators as “quite unique in terms of how horrific it was”, the case involved the manipulation of a schoolboy who was turned against his family and ultimately lured to his death.
The voice at the end of the phone was calm, collected, measured. “I need police and a forensic team,” the man said to the 999 call handler. “My friend and I got into an altercation and I am the only one who came out alive.”
Just under a year later, that man – 19-year-old Lewis Daynes from Grays, Essex – has been sentenced to life in prison for murdering 14-year-old Breck Bednar.
Described by police as “a cruel, manipulative person,” Daynes had spent months building up online relationships with “vulnerable teenage boys”.
One of those boys was Breck, who lived with his mother, Lorin LaFave, and his siblings in Caterham, Surrey.
A “dedicated” student at St Bede’s school in Redhill, a churchgoer and member of the Air Training Corps, Breck was “kind, intelligent” and “extremely gifted”.
Ms LaFave’s partner, Simon Goodwin, said Breck was “a good kid”.
“Very respectful, never heard him answer back to his mother, or shout or swear. He was almost a model son,” he said.
Breck had started communicating with Daynes through a gaming website, of which a couple of his friends were already members, in 2013.
Together, the boys would spend time playing games and chatting over TeamSpeak, a piece of software which acts like a telephone conference call.
But some of the gamers soon became concerned Breck was being controlled and turned against his family by Daynes.
Ms LaFave had also begun to notice some differences in her son’s behaviour.
“His personality was changing, and his ideology was changing, and he was starting to refuse to attend church with us.
“He was starting to refuse to do the normal family things we did. I felt like it was because of the negative influence of this person [Daynes].”
She raised her concerns by contacting Surrey Police in December 2013 – but a few weeks later, her son got into a taxi, paid for by Daynes, and made his way to a flat in Grays.
He was never seen alive again.
Under instructions from Daynes, Breck had told his father Barry Bednar he was going to meet a friend on 16 February, and later asked permission to stay overnight.
Police cannot be sure of exactly what happened inside that flat that night, between Daynes ordering a pizza at 18:40 GMT and the call he made to emergency services at 11:06 the next day.
“When he rang the police, he gave an account, and it was the account he wanted us to hear,” said senior investigating officer Det Insp Anne Cameron.
Daynes told the call-handler Breck had arrived at his house saying his was “fed up with his home life”.
Daynes claimed his victim had grabbed a penknife on morning of 17 February and had tried to attack him after “losing control”. He said he had stabbed Breck “in the back of the neck, near the brain stem” and the struggle had ended with Daynes cutting Breck’s throat.
But when police arrived, they found Breck had been tied up with duct tape, and Daynes’ phones, hard drives and pen drives – which were all encrypted – had been immersed in water.
He refused to give police access to passwords to any of the devices.
“He wanted to be in control all the time he was in custody,” said Det Insp Cameron.
“As part of our investigation we went away, we searched what he was saying and compared, and clearly there were inconsistencies. But when we went back to question those inconsistencies, he exercised his right to give no comment.”
A “computer engineer” who lived alone, Daynes was a “very insular person”.
“The only people that could give us a lot of information about him were his gaming friends, the ones he manipulated online,” Det Insp Cameron said.
“A lot of those said that becoming acquainted with him, they found that he was very domineering.
“He would stress his views upon other people, and demand they accepted those views.”
Jenny Hopkins, Chief Crown Prosecutor for the East of England, said her team had gathered evidence to show how “controlling and manipulative” Daynes was.
“He provided the victim with a mobile phone, provided him with a cover story that he could give his father as to why he wasn’t coming home, he paid for his taxi ride – all of it culminating in the most brutal attack,” she said.
“We deal with many shocking cases at the CPS, but this one stands out because it is particularly cruel and violent, and also because of the level of manipulation and planning that Daynes used leading up to the murder.”
Breck’s family have set up a foundation in his memory to “support computer education for young people, including the responsible use of technology”.
“I think there’s a lot of perception that it only happens to people who don’t have parents looking after them,” Ms LaFave told the BBC.
“These predators are very good at manipulation and controlling, controlling children and trying to control me.
“We have set up a foundation and the theme is ‘play virtual but live real’. It’s OK to know who you’re speaking to,” she said.
Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) investigations into the conduct of both Essex Police and Surrey Police are ongoing.