“I’ll never forget the first time we met,” says 15-year-old Kayleigh. “We clicked right away.”
This is Kayleigh’s Love Story, a five-minute film that has attracted more than one million viewers within 24 hours of its being released.
“I could talk to him for hours,” Kayleigh says of the boyfriend she meets online. “It was as if we were old friends.”
Midway through the five-minute film, however, the tone changes. Kayleigh’s voiceover is still chatting cheerily to the camera – “He treats me like an adult. I think he might be the one. I really do” – but the images show Kayleigh naked in a bed, crying. From there, it only gets worse.
It is not, in fact, Kayleigh who is speaking to the camera. The real-life Kayleigh Haywood died in November 2015.
Expressions of affection
She was sent an unsolicited Facebook message by 27-year-old Luke Harlow. Harlow subsequently bombarded her with expressions of affection; 13 days later, she agreed to spend the evening at his house. She was held there for 36 hours, before finally managing to escape. Harlow’s neighbour, 28-year-old Stephen Beadman, pursued her. He then dragged her into the nearby woods, where he raped and murdered her.
Now, Leicestershire police hope that Kayleigh’s Love Story – made with the full cooperation of Kayleigh’s family – will raise awareness of the dangers of grooming among pupils and teachers.
The film has already been shown in schools in the Leicestershire area. And, since it was published online yesterday, it has been viewed more than 1.3 million times.
Leicestershire police’s deputy chief constable, Roger Bannister, said: “What happened to Kayleigh was horrific, but we are pleased that some good is coming from the awful tragedy, and that this film is raising far greater awareness of the dangers of online grooming.
“There are signs that we can all look out for and do something about – before it is too late.”