Mark and John were not their real names. Following a court ruling, their identities were kept anonymous due to their underage status. Mark, 16, had no prior convictions nor had he been involved in any other sort of trouble.
John, 14, was a bright grammar school student from a middle class family and was expected to go to university. He was also lonely and confused and had fallen out with school friends as well as his stepfather. He turned to his computer and the internet to make friends and indulge in a fantasy life that soon became out of control. Mark’s parents had bought him his own computer in 2002 to help with his schoolwork.
The two boys met in a chat room in February 2003, when John was posing as a 16-year-old girl looking for a cyber relationship. Mark took the bait and the two began an ongoing online conversation. By March 2003, the two boys were in regular contact.
Unbeknownst to his parents, John was becoming increasingly attached to Mark and had also had conversations with Mark as himself. When the two boys arranged to meet in person, John’s parents were aware of it and kept an eye on proceedings. Knowing the risks involved, they warned John not to give out his home address or telephone number. John’s parents even went so far as to meet with Mark’s parents and the adults seemed happy for their sons to remain friends.
John began to devise other chat room characters. The first was a 40-year-old woman from London, called Janet Dobinson, who contacted Mark in April 2003, telling him she was involved in secret work for the British government. Dobinson began to hint at a complex plot that involved a letter containing the Queen’s seal, secret agents, the world’s most expensive jewels and a ‘massive safe at the bottom of the Atlantic’. Dobinson told Mark that he would have to travel to London to meet the Queen, the Prime Minister and the head of the Secret Service.
Mark later told police that he thought Dobinson’s claims stupid at first but went along with them out of curiosity. As time went by and they spoke at length, it began to feel all the more real to Mark. Dobinson told Mark that he had become an agent for the British Secret Intelligence Service (SIS, also known as MI6) and that his agent number was 47695. This seemed to convince Mark that he was a secret agent, with a licence to kill.
John’s fantasy world was growing and his feelings of attachment to Mark were becoming stronger. He created other characters, both male and female, to contact Mark. For months they exchanged lengthy conversations, some of which turned sexual in tone and content. Mark reportedly even masturbated in front of his web cam on more than one occasion, on the request of John’s fake characters.
John devised a new plan and, posing as agent Dobinson, ordered Mark to murder him. The reason for the murder was that it was a test to prove Mark was capable of being a secret agent. He was told that his reward would not only be carrying our work for the British Secret Service but he would also receive money and sexual favours from Dobinson.
Professor Mark Griffiths, a psychologist at Nottingham Trent University, specialising in technology and addictions maintains, “The internet is a medium where people can lose themselves emotionally. …You can become whatever is written on the screen. People can forget themselves.”
Mark and Dobinson chatted on the internet on Saturday, 28 June 2003, the day before the murder was to take place. He was given specific instructions as to how to carry out the killing, details of where and when to meet John, as well as the code ‘6969’ which would be used should the mission be aborted. The act was to happen in the centre of Altrincham, near the Trafford shopping centre, and the method was to be stabbing.