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.’