Her grades were impeccable: Beatrice Mayhew was proud to call herself a model, straight-A student. She took her studies seriously and her diligence and exemplary attitude earned her respect among teachers and pupils alike. When it came to selecting a head girl, the 15-year-old was an obvious choice.
Sensible and level-headed were words that were readily used to describe Beatrice. She hadn’t even had a boyfriend — nor did she really want one — and, as for the sexually charged antics of other girls her age, she was smart enough to steer well clear.
So the fact that Beatrice found herself lured into the web of one of Britain’s most depraved internet paedophiles is nothing short of chilling. In short, if it could happen to Beatrice, it could happen to anyone’s daughter.
The trap was sprung so easily. Like most teenage girls, Beatrice was keen to earn a bit of extra pocket money and advertised her services as a babysitter on the sales website Gumtree
Depraved: Dr Matthew Falder, who has been jailed for 32 years
When a woman called Liz replied offering her work, she was delighted and quickly responded. But, instead of suggesting that Beatrice look after her children, Liz had an altogether different suggestion. Liz said she sketched life drawings — tasteful naked portraits — as a hobby and was looking for nude pictures on which to base her artwork. The drawings served as a sort of therapy, Liz explained.
Any pictures Beatrice sent didn’t need to be overtly revealing and would, she assured the teenager, be for her eyes only. In return, Liz would pay her the princely sum of £800.
To a naive teenager like Beatrice, it seemed an incredibly enticing offer. ‘It was an odd response to my babysitting advert,’ she says. ‘But I’d heard of people using life drawings to help deal with depression, and she made me feel I was in control of the kind of pictures I sent.’
So she snapped off a quick, tasteful, topless photo on her mobile phone and sent it over.
It was to prove the start of an almost unimaginable nightmare, as ‘Liz’ instantly transformed from caring older woman to cruel, anonymous predator, claiming that, unless Beatrice did exactly as she instructed, she would send that semi-nude image to all her family and friends.
‘I felt stupid and trapped. The idea of people seeing me topless made me feel sick,’ she says today. ‘I knew I couldn’t let it happen.’
So she surrendered to ‘Liz’s’ threat and, over the following two months, was blackmailed into sending her over 200 more naked pictures — each one giving ‘Liz’ further leverage and leading to demands for ever more humiliating images.
Vulnerable and frightened, Beatrice was coerced into holding up racist and homophobic signs. She photographed herself licking a toilet seat, and kneeling naked on the floor eating dog food from a bowl — all the while too terrified either to tell her unsuspecting mother or refuse to send the pictures, in case Liz followed through on her threat to show them to everyone. ‘I didn’t know who “Liz” was or why she was doing this, but felt I had no option,’ says Beatrice.
Liz was, in fact, Cambridge University graduate Dr Matthew Falder, who was this week sentenced to 32 years in prison for committing a catalogue of vile, paedophilic crimes online.
Falder, 29, blackmailed at least 47 victims into sending humiliating pictures of themselves performing depraved acts, before sharing them with other paedophiles on forums on the ‘dark web’ — a part of the internet accessible only with specialist software that allows users to remain anonymous.
Last June, following a two-year investigation — the largest of its kind, led by the National Crime Agency (NCA) — Falder was arrested at Birmingham University, where he worked as a postdoctoral geophysics researcher.
When police searched his flat in Birmingham, they found thousands of images on a double-encrypted USB stick which showed abuse against children and babies.
‘In my 30 years of law enforcement, I have never come across a criminal whose sole motivation was to cause pain and hurt to others,’ says Matt Sutton, the NCA senior investigating officer. ‘The trauma to his victims has been breathtaking.’
Matthew Falder’s desk and computer system in his flat. A paedophile who blackmailed his internet victims into carrying out degrading sex acts
What makes his crimes even more unfathomable is that he came from a respectable background. Raised by a wealthy family from Knutsford in Cheshire, he was privately educated, before gaining a place at Cambridge University, where he was described as truly exceptional.
He even had an unsuspecting girlfriend, and friends said he was the ‘life and soul of the party’.
Beatrice — whose real name the Mail is unable to use for legal reasons — is now 20 and at university. Articulate and ambitious, she, like all of Falder’s victims, has suffered crippling ramifications.
She has become estranged from her mother and is too frightened to have her picture taken at all. She is distrustful of strangers, too scared to meet a boyfriend and unwilling to tell even her best friend the full horror of what she’s been through: ‘I worry people will judge and am aware the pictures of me are still there, online.’
Her distressing story serves both as a chilling reminder of how vulnerable our children are in the digital age and a cautionary tale as to the complex mechanisms abusers use to ensnare even the most intelligent teenagers.
‘Falder was very good at grooming his victims — he came across as a genuinely nice woman, trying to boost girls’ confidence,’ says Dr Elly Hanson, a clinical psychologist who specialises in abuse and who gave a statement on the impact of Falder’s abuse on his victims for the prosecution.
Once Falder had one photograph with which to blackmail his victims, the psychological obstacles — from fear to shame — preventing them from confiding in anyone often seemed insurmountable.
‘Although the puppet strings the online abuser is pulling are not always easy for people outside the situation to appreciate, the victims enter a place where they will do anything to avoid their worst fears coming true,’ says Dr Hanson.
Beatrice had posted her Gumtree advert in April 2013, when she was studying for her GCSEs. ‘Liz said I should use a personal email address to contact her,’ she says. ‘She said I could be pictured naked from the back or topless.’
But, minutes after Beatrice had emailed Liz the fateful first picture, all offers of payment were promptly abandoned and she received a reply with a drastically different tone.
‘I was told I had two options. Option A, go along with what she asked — or Option B, she would send the picture to everyone I knew,’ she recalls. ‘She listed my friends on Facebook, so obviously had this information about me. She said if I didn’t reply, she’d choose Option B for me.’
For a self-conscious teenage girl, the thought of her classmates seeing her even half-naked was, as she puts it, ‘unthinkable’.
She adds: ‘Instead of being Beatrice the head girl, I would have been Beatrice the slut.’
Neither could she contemplate confiding in her fiftysomething mother, who brought Beatrice up as a single mum, but to whom Beatrice had never been close. ‘As she was older, she was more traditional. I knew she wouldn’t understand,’ she says. ‘I felt so ashamed. I didn’t feel I had any way out but to email Liz back and tell her I’d do as she said.’
Her reply prompted an avalanche of emails, on a daily basis, from Liz, which sent Beatrice’s life careering out of control. She first ordered her to pose topless with a sign saying H2TC — which, Beatrice now knows, is an acronym for Hurt to the Core, one of Falder’s preferred websites that specialises in ‘hurtcore porn’, or sexual abuse involving severe punishment, humiliation and pain.
‘I suspected Liz was a man, but was too scared of making her angry to ask questions,’ says Beatrice, who says the demands ‘got progressively worse’.
Within days, Liz was making her pose for pictures fully naked or as she took off her school uniform. ‘She’d often ask for ten pictures at a time,’ says Beatrice. ‘The emails always came late at night or first thing in the morning. Knowing they’d arrive stopped me sleeping. I couldn’t concentrate at school.’
Refusing to comply, she quickly decided, was not an option: ‘If I didn’t do as she said, she’d threaten to send everyone the pictures she had of me.’
Soon, she was spending up to an hour-and-a-half every evening in her bedroom sending pictures. Her mother was oblivious throughout.
‘It’s normal for teenagers to spend a long time in their room, so she didn’t suspect anything,’ says Beatrice, who was also blackmailed into giving information about every aspect of her life.
‘Liz asked how I got on with my mum. I felt I had to tell the truth, in case she realised, from accessing my Facebook page, that I was lying. Knowing we weren’t close, I now realise, made her feel better able to blackmail me because I was less likely to confide in her.’
Any pictures Beatrice sent didn’t need to be overtly revealing and would, she assured the teenager, be for her eyes only. In return, Liz would pay her the princely sum of £800 (stock image)
Dr Hanson explains: ‘Offenders manipulate young people into feeling very powerless and this feeling makes it hard to seek help.’ In any case, Beatrice was unsure who to turn to. ‘I thought my mum would hate me if she knew what I was doing,’ she says.
Liz told Beatrice she knew where she lived and what school she went to. Beatrice became convinced Liz was someone she actually knew.
‘I kept wondering if it was a neighbour or someone at school who had seen me naked,’ she says. ‘I felt scared of everyone.’
As her anxiety escalated, the abuse intensified. Liz asked Beatrice what names classmates called her when she had been picked on and made her write them — insulting words such as ‘pancake’ (flat-chested) and ‘pig’ — with lipstick on her body. She was given deadlines in which to supply her pictures and was offered warped deals as to which photos she sent over next.
Beatrice says: ‘The more Liz got, the more she could ask for. We both knew it.’ And so she felt forced to pose naked with signs saying God Hates Fags and Gay People Will Burn In Hell — horrific for any victim, but especially excruciating for a liberal teenager terrified of what her peers would think.
She tried to research who Liz was online, but her email had been set up via the dark web, using a webmail email address that doesn’t require users to identify themselves: ‘Liz told me the software she used made her totally untraceable. She was right.’
When Beatrice did summon the courage to ask her to stop demanding pictures, even that was twisted into an exercise in abject humiliation: ‘She made me film two videos — one with reasons why she should stop and one with reasons she should keep doing it.’
Then, she alluded to the end of Beatrice’s ordeal to spur her into ever more humiliating acts. ‘She said if I licked the toilet seat, it would be over sooner,’ says Beatrice, who was told to photograph herself eating dog food from a bowl on the floor: ‘I felt worthless, less than human. It was horrific.’
It was two months before Beatrice summoned the courage to call support service Childline, who encouraged her to report Liz on a website dedicated to child exploitation. A police officer made contact and she was interviewed at her local police station.
Telling them should have been a relief. Instead, she says: ‘I still felt I’d done something wrong.’ As she was only 15, her mother had to be informed by the police that Beatrice had reported a crime. ‘I’m not sure exactly what she was told and Mum never asked,’ says Beatrice, who adds that her relationship with her mother, to whom she hasn’t spoken since moving out of home aged 17, was irrevocably ruined.
‘I didn’t trust her enough to talk to her about it. I don’t think she understood, and I felt angry that I wasn’t supported.’
The police took Beatrice’s phone as part of their investigation and she obtained a new email address.
But, even though the demands for pictures ended, she remained haunted. ‘Every day, I expected the pictures to be sent to everyone I knew. Liz had built up a detailed picture of my life. I expected her to turn up at my home at any time,’ says Beatrice, who was referred to counselling by the police and later prescribed antidepressants.
‘I didn’t trust anyone, even friends — I thought, if I told them, they’d use the information against me.’
Meanwhile, the police investigation went nowhere until 2015 when the NCA became aware of a UK-based suspect — who would later transpire to be Falder — posting on these sick porn websites.
‘The NCA called and said they thought my case was linked to other similar cases they were investigating,’ says Beatrice. ‘It was horrific to think others had been through what I had.’
Police called Beatrice when Falder was arrested last June, but it wasn’t until she read out her victim impact statement at Birmingham Crown Court last October, where even his abbreviated charge list was so long it took 35 minutes to read out, that she learned more about him.
‘I was shocked he turned out to be a Cambridge graduate,’ she says. ‘But I’d imagined him to be a man on his computer in his bedroom. And he was.’
She saw him again at his sentencing hearing this week, where Falder stared impassively ahead, with scant regard for his victims. ‘Knowing he’s going to prison for a very long time and won’t be able to hurt anyone else helps,’ she says.
Yet her scars remain, along with the flashbacks of those photographs, her fear of being captured on camera, an unwarranted but burning shame and a crippling inability to trust.
And to other girls approached by strangers online — and the mothers who fear for their safety — she has a stark warning: ‘No matter how trustworthy a stranger might seem, remember, you don’t know who you’re talking to.’