'Skilled writers of fiction would struggle to conjure up a plot such as that which arises here.'
- Judge David Maddison
This is the story of two ordinary Manchester teens whose extraordinary friendship led to one of the most unusual and bewildering criminal cases in British history.
Just before 8pm on Sunday 29 June 2003, the police were called to a stabbing that had taken place down an alley behind a row of shops in Altrincham, a town in Greater Manchester. They arrived on the scene to see a 14-year-old teenager fighting for his life, bleeding to death after receiving multiple stab wounds.
Standing close by was a 16-year-old boy, who was the one who alerted the police to the crime. For their protection, the true identity of these boys cannot be revealed, they are simply known as John (14) and Mark (16).
Mark was visibly shaken by what he just witnessed, telling the police he saw a hooded knifeman stab his friend, for no reason, before running off. At first, the investigation was like any other. The police appealed for witnesses whilst seizing CCTV footage of the surrounding area.
A few days later, however, the case took a surprise turn. Footage captured of the alley entrance showed that no one else had entered it except John and Mark. Mark was now a suspect and after he was shown the CCTV footage, revealed the truth that he was the one who stabbed John.
His motive? He’d been asked to do so by a British spy mistress called Janet Dobinson, who he’d been communicating with via an Internet chat room. If he completed his mission he’d become a member of the British Secret Service, receive £80 million, meet Tony Blair (the then PM), the Queen and receive sexual favours from Janet, a 44-year-old married woman who lived a double life for Queen and country. Mark had even been given a codename, 47695, and been provided with an abort code, 6969, should the mission be cancelled.
It all seemed quite unbelievable but for the impressionable and naïve Mark, he’d believed every twist and turn of the fantasy that had been created for him online. When investigators seized Mark’s computer they found over 58,000 lines of text within the chat room. As they poured through the copy, they initially believed they were looking for a paedophile pretending to be Janet and grooming Mark.
For the past six months, Mark had communicated with a variety of people on the chat room, a site dedicated to Manchester teenagers. There was Rachel, the 16-year-old whom Mark had grown close to; John (the victim) was her stepbrother; Kevin the decidedly creepy self-proclaimed stalker and finally Janet the spy mistress. A multitude of other people had also apparently come and gone on the chat room during this period.
Mark was a college student who worked part-time at a restaurant. He did reasonably well at school, although he wasn't the most academic person. He was never in any trouble and was close to his family. He was in many regards, an ordinary teenage lad. His time online, however, began spiralling out of control. Soon he was spending upwards of 12 hours a day on the chat room, gradually becoming more and more obsessed with it.
Whilst the chat included usual teenage topics such as sports, movies and clothing, sex and masturbation was often the focus. Mark had initially fallen in love with Rachel, even though their attempts to meet up in real life had never worked out. The chat room took a dark turn when Kevin declared that he’d kidnapped Rachel and would rape and kill her unless Mark recorded himself masturbating via webcam.
Mark was so convinced of Kevin’s threats that he agreed to the terms. Rachel was then apparently released by Kevin, although she would mysteriously disappear from the chat room shortly after.
Mark then grew close with her stepbrother John, even meeting up in person and hanging out. It was then that Janet entered the chat room. Writing only in capital letters, Janet convinced Mark she was a spy and he was the reason she had joined the chat room, to recruit him into MI5.
Over the coming weeks, Janet spun her web of deceit, convincing Mark to carry out ‘tests’ to prove his worthiness before he’d be given his first official mission. On one occasion, she asked him to get John out of school as his life was in danger. According to Janet, John was the single most important person in the country, as he knew the code to access a secret safe hidden at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean that only a few countries knew about.
Mark obeyed, convincing John’s school he had a dentist appointment. With each passing day, the fantasy Janet was creating became even wilder, even more unbelievable, yet Mark did not question it. He was infatuated with this woman.
Mark was to carry out oral sex on John to complete the test...
Another test was given. This time the order came from Tony Blair himself, via Janet. Prime Minister Blair wanted John to be seen as gay, therefore Mark was to carry out oral sex on John to complete the test. Mark once again obliged.
Eventually, the time came when Janet asked Mark to carry out his mission.
Janet: ‘Could you stab someone?’
Mark: ‘I haven't really thought about it.’
Janet: ‘Well think please.’
Janet informed Mark that the once valuable asset John was now suffering a brain tumour and needed to be put out of his misery. If Mark didn’t complete the task Janet would lose her job and national security would be at risk.
On Sunday 29 June 2003, Mark brought a kitchen knife under the pretence it was for his mother, carefully avoided the CCTV cameras Janet had warned him about and entered the alley with John. He stabbed him twice, once in the stomach and once in the chest and then waited 20 minutes before calling the police. This delay had also been an order Janet had provided, as it would have given John enough time to bleed to death.
John was charged with inciting his own murder
Janet was to be the first to arrive on the scene, disguised as a detective who would ensure Mark wasn’t arrested…but Janet never arrived.
After the investigators had poured through the thousands of lines of text from the chat room, they realised most of the people on there were fake. They then realised a number had used the same stylistic variation of the word ‘maybe,’ writing it as ‘mybye’. Janet had used it and so had John.
The police concluded John was the mastermind behind it all; he was every character in that chat room, the puppet master pulling the strings whilst Mark played the role of puppet. John had created the fantasy that led to his own stabbing.
John would recover from his near-fatal wounds and whilst Mark was charged with attempted murder, John was charged with inciting his own murder. In legal terms, it was unique in British criminal history.
When it was unveiled in court, Mark couldn’t believe he’d been so gullible. Why had John done it? By all accounts he too, like Mark, was an ordinary teenager, nothing in his history would suggest he’d be involved in something so terrible. The answer as to why is still up for debate but some claim he loved John to the point where he knew Mark would not reciprocate if the truth were ever revealed. The only way it could end in his head was suicide.
‘Offences of this kind under normal circumstances would result in an extremely lengthy custodial sentence,’ Judge David Maddison said, ‘but these could not be described as any normal circumstances.’ The two were instead given supervision orders, John three years, Mark two. They were ordered never to meet again and they could only go on the Internet with supervision and never onto chat rooms.
Nicholas Clarke, prosecuting, told the court, ‘This case serves as a stark warning of the dangers of the dark side of the internet.’