A convicted sex offender was jailed for life today after admitting the kidnap, rape and murder of a teenager he ensnared on Facebook.
Peter Chapman dramatically changed his plea at Teesside Crown Court as he was due to go on trial this morning for the killing of Ashleigh Hall.
Judge Peter Fox QC, the Recorder of Middlesbrough, told Chapman he would serve a minimum of 35 years in prison before being considered for release.
The body of the 17-year-old childcare student was found dumped in a farmer’s field near Sedgefield, County Durham, last October.
Murdered: Ashleigh Hall, 17, was befriended by Peter Chapman on the Facebook social networking site. She was raped and murdered before her body was dumped next to farmer’s field
Miss Hall, from Darlington, was strangled and left near a known lovers’ lane.
Today, at Teesside Crown Court, prosecutor Graham Reeds QC outlined how Chapman had lured Ashleigh to her death.
He had posed as a fictitious good-looking 19-year-old boy called ‘Peter Cartwright’ on Facebook – even posting fake pictures – to befriend the college student.
After becoming her Facebook friend and chatting on other social networking sites he arranged to meet her on the evening of October 25 last year.
Knowing that Ashleigh was expecting to meet a teenage boy and not a 33-year-old, Chapman led her to believe that Peter Cartwright’s father would pick her up.
‘The defendant used this handsome alter-ego to entice 17-year-old Ashleigh Hall into meeting him,’ Mr Reeds said.
Grieving: Ashleigh Hall’s mother Andrea is comforted by her father Mike Hall outside Teesside Crown Court following Chapman’s conviction
‘When she met him on October 25 last year, he kidnapped, raped and murdered her.’
Mr Reeds said Chapman had spent the early part of October 25 visiting the area where he was to eventually take his victim.
‘Having organised the ‘Pete’s dad’ cover story, having researched the location of the intended crime scene and having just travelled to the area to check it, the defendant had now sprung the trap,’ the barrister told the court.
Alter-ego: Chapman used a picture of a good-looking teenager to entice his victim
‘All he had to do now was wait for her to fall into it.’
The prosecutor went onto explain that Chapman drove Ashleigh to an area off the A177 at Thorpe Larches, near Sedgefield, County Durham.
‘It was at this location the prosecution say the defendant raped Ashleigh Hall,’ Mr Reeds said.
‘It is also possible that she was murdered at this location before her body was transported to the location at which it was discovered the next day.
‘The evidence that was later recovered supports the proposition that when at Thorpe Larches lay-by Ashleigh Hall was forced to perform oral sex on the defendant.
‘After removing her lower clothing she was gagged with duct tape wound around her face, bound by the forearms with tape and forced her into sexual intercourse.
‘At some stage the bindings around her arms were removed – most likely to allow her to pull up and fasten her lower clothing.
‘But then after the rape her arms were bound up again and further tape was put over her face, suffocating her to death.’
Purely by chance – unaware Ashleigh was dead – police stopped Chapman’s car the following day and he was arrested for several motoring offences.
Passing sentence, Judge Fox said: ‘It appears to me that you are, you were at the time, and have been for some considerable time, a very great danger to young women and, for what it is worth, I cannot foresee your release.
‘In my judgment, your killing was of such seriousness on its own, and in conjunction with other associated offences, that it falls clearly into the category of being particularly high.’
Judge Fox said Chapman had carried out a ‘significant degree’ of planning and pre-meditation in snaring Ashleigh.
‘This was an evil scheme very carefully brought, and with considerable detail, to trap your victim,’ he told bearded Chapman.
‘She was particularly vulnerable because of her age.
Grim discovery: Ashleigh’s body was found in a field near Sedgefield, County Durham
The Ford Mondeo car used by Peter Chapman in the rape and murder of the 17-year-old
‘Before you re-bound her so that she died from suffocation, all that led up must lead to mental and, in raping her, physical suffering.’
Judge Fox said the aggravating features of the case ‘far outweighed’ any mitigation offered by Chapman’s barrister, Andrew Robertson QC.
‘I have considered carefully the degree of remorse. You were crying when the police officer came to your cell – whether that was for self-pity or guilt, I say no more.
‘You co-operated to a degree with the police but that was in the act of desperation, in my judgment, which led your relatively clever attempt to avoid the charge of murder.
‘That leads me to conclude that your minimum term will be 35 years.’
Judge Fox also imposed concurrent 10-year sentences for rape and kidnap but imposed no separate penalty for the offence of failing to notify a change of address.
As Chapman was led away, a man shouted from the public gallery: ‘Rot in hell you scumbag.’
The grubby interior of the Ford Mondeo car used by Chapman in the killing of Ashleigh Hall
Sad farewell: Ashleigh’s coffin is carried from St Cuthbert’s Church, Darlington, during her funeral
Chapman’s confession to police was caught on camera. Footage released showed him telling a custody officer: ‘I killed someone last night.
‘I need to tell somebody from CID where the body is. It hasn’t been reported yet.
Chapman later told a detective: ‘I had to tell you today. I couldn’t just leave her like that.
‘Has anyone been in touch with her family?’
Chapman has a long history of sexual offending.
At 15 he was accused of sexual assault and four years later he was accused of raping a girl he had befriended. Both these allegations were discontinued.
But in December 1996, aged 19, he was jailed for seven years at Teesside Crown Court after being convicted of raping of two teenage prostitutes.
After his release, he was arrested by Cheshire Police in 2002 for the rape and kidnap of a prostitute in Ellesmere Port. Again the case was discontinued.
Chapman today also pleaded guilty to failing to notify police of a change of address, as required by the sex offenders register.
‘I did it’: CCTV footage of Peter Chapman at the Custody desk at Middlesbrough Police Station, when he confessed to the killing
Speaking outside court Andrea Hall, Ashleigh’s mother, said the authorities should have done more to monitor Chapman’s whereabouts after his release from prison.
‘Them sort of people should be tagged and they should be kept an eye on all the time,’ she told reporters.
‘They shouldn’t be allowed out into society anyway.’
After Chapman was released from prison he was able to move around the country, appearing free from monitoring.
Mrs Hall was asked who she blamed for the fact he was free to kill her daughter.
‘I blame them for letting them out,’ she said. ‘He shouldn’t have been let out. He should not have been let out whatsoever and for the people that are supposed to keep an eye on them, they should keep an eye on these sort of people.’
Mrs Hall also said it was wrong that Chapman, as a registered sex offender, was able to post online as a teenage boy.
Mother’s agony: Ashleigh Hall’s mother Andrea is comforted by the girl’s grandfather Mike Hall outside Teesside Crown Court
‘He took somebody else’s photo and put it on the internet and has been posing behind this photo. It is awful to think that there’s actually a boy out there and he is using his photo to prey on young girls.’
Mrs Hall said she was powerless stop her daughter going out on the night she met Chapman.
‘What could I have done?,’ she asked. ‘She was 17. You don’t stop your kids from going out.
‘You tell them to be careful but like I said, she said she was meeting a 15, 16, 17-year-old or whatever age he said he was.
‘So of course she was going to meet him. He was a nice looking boy. I couldn’t have stopped it and I wouldn’t have stopped it.
‘The message is for people just to be careful. Please just be careful. Make sure you please do tell somebody if you are going to meet a person. That is the message, don’t go on your own.’
A Merseyside Police spokesman said tonight there was a nine-month gap between officers realising Chapman had fled his home and issuing a nationwide wanted notice for him.
Officers called at his house in Liverpool in January last year to discuss a ‘traffic incident’ but he was not in.
Under the terms of his parole, he was due to be visited by other officers weeks later in February.
But again he was not in.
The spokesman said the force began inquiries to establish where he was locally.
But it was not until September they issued a national alert – just a month before the murder.
The spokesman said he did not know why the force did not go national earlier.
He said: ‘Merseyside Police want to take this opportunity to express our sympathy to the family of Ashleigh Hall.
‘Merseyside Police can confirm that Peter Chapman was a registered sex offender who was resident within the force area from November 2000 and at that time he was assessed as high risk.
‘In March 2007, he was assessed in line with national guidance and the nationally-adopted risk model and was classed as a medium risk.
‘The last time Chapman was seen at his home address was August 29 2008, and he was spoken to by a police officer regarding his employment on September 24 2008.
‘Up to this point, Chapman had remained fully compliant with his registration requirements.
‘Officers from the force roads policing unit discovered that Chapman was not at his home address on January 6 2009, when they went to inquire about a traffic incident.
Facebook killer Peter Chapman posed as a good-looking teenage boy
‘An officer was able to speak to Chapman on that date by phone, but subsequent visits to his house established a concern that he may no longer be residing there.
‘The police then made efforts locally to establish his whereabouts.
‘As a result of being unable to trace Chapman locally, Merseyside Police circulated him nationally in September 2009 as being wanted for failing to notify a change of address.
‘Merseyside Police continually reviews its policies and processes around the management of sex offenders and to strengthen work with our partner agencies.
‘We have also driven locally the national programme (Think You Know) concerning safety on the internet, which aims to keep young people safe while using the internet.’
Chapman was charged with kidnapping and raping a prostitute in Liverpool in February 2003.
But he cheated justice when the case fell apart because of ‘difficulties with a prosecution witness’, the spokesman said.
Chief Supt Andy Reddick urged all parents to be aware of the potential hazards of their children making friends online.
He said: ‘The internet is a great thing but young people who go online can easily fall prey to the scheming, devious tricks of predatory paedophiles and perverts who, sadly, are all too willing to prey on the naive and vulnerable.
‘Chapman (Peter Chapman, Ashleigh’s killer) posted a picture of a good-looking young man and pretended to be him.
‘It immediately attracted the attention of young women.
‘The reality, as everyone can see from Chapman’s photograph, is someone completely different.
‘He is a horrible man. He knew no young woman would be attracted to him and that was why he hid behind a mask.
‘The danger is that people accept what they see and hear.
‘Social networking is fine – if you know exactly who you are talking to. Sadly, as this case has shown, on the internet you can never be sure.
‘It is a jungle that is full of pitfalls and traps and that is why companies who set up and promote such sites should do everything in their power to protect those that use them.
‘Parents too should play their part and ensure they know exactly what their children are up to when they are surfing the net.
‘Ashleigh made a mistake and paid for it with her life.
‘Her death and this murder trial should be a wake up call to parents and internet companies around the world to ensure as far as they can, that nothing happens to another innocent victim.’