Hope Barden: Sex role-play death prompts law change plea

By Ben Perrin
BBC News

image copyrightLily Barden
image captionLily Barden (right) wants strict webcam sex laws to prevent life-threatening situations after sister Hope (left) was found dead

The sister of an adult online performer who died during a sexual role play game gone wrong has called for strict new webcamming pornography laws.

Hope Barden, 21, was found asphyxiated after carrying out a degrading sex act on the internet for a pub landlord over 250 miles away.

A coroner ruled she was unlawfully killed and Hope's mother said she was "left to die".

Hope's sister Lily has called for new regulations to prevent more deaths.

Hope was found dead in Burton-upon-Trent after filming herself "for the purposes of sexual gratification" for a "reckless" online voyeur, Staffordshire coroner Andrew Haigh said.

"The extent of his encouragement to her to carry out this act and his failure to report appropriately when she lost consciousness makes it clear that the male was so subjectively reckless as to amount to manslaughter," Mr Haigh ruled in Hope's inquest last week.

Staffordshire Police said Jerome Dangar, 45, from Tintagel, Cornwall, was online when Hope died, but made no attempt to raise the alarm.

It is understood a file was being prepared by police for submission to the Crown Prosecution Service to consider charging him with Hope's manslaughter.

Police and her family said this would have been a landmark legal first in the UK - but were denied justice when Dangar was found dead at HMP Dartmoor in April.

How did Hope get embroiled in webcamming?

image copyrightHope Barden
image captionLily said her sister Hope "lit up a room" with her presence

Cornish-born Hope was an adrenaline junkie who completed a skydive and adored her family and friends.

She completed her foundation degree in adolescent mental health at the University of Worcester and became a support worker for people with learning disabilities in Burton.

But in a bid to supplement her income, she began working in the "unregulated" online adult film industry and used several adult webcamming platforms, her sister said. She soon became acquainted with Dangar.

"It started when Hope was still living down here in Penzance.

"It's not a joke, but the things he (Dangar) was saying we were laughing at.

"I know he was asking her to blow fag smoke down the camera and paid her £50 for that, which is bizarre.

"Then he was asking for very random and extreme things. He was giving her thousands of pounds and she liked designer clothes.

"They weren't in an online relationship. It was the money and I think it just escalated too quickly.

"She didn't mean to hang herself and she had no mental health issues. It was a terrible accident, which that sick man didn't report."

Who was online sexual predator Dangar?

image copyrightCornwall Live
image captionJerome Dangar admitted nine offences of possessing extreme pornography

The middle-aged publican ran the King Arthur's Arms in the small civil parish and village of Tintagel in north Cornwall.

Hope and Dangar were strangers until they met over an adult online platform, with the pair swapping a series of messages.

He was a regular user of an adult internet site and paid Hope £2,300 to perform sexual acts over three months, according to financial records checked by police.

Her family said it escalated into "degrading and dangerous situations" until her death on 15 March 2018.

Dangar's phone was seized two months later and he was arrested following a police raid on the pub in November.

He admitted nine charges of possessing extreme pornography of acts that showed a "pre-occupation with strangulation, stabbing, torture, asphyxiation and death".

Police were due to interview him over his involvement in Hope's death, but Dangar was found dead in jail and never faced further charges.

What is the law on streaming online pornography?

image copyrightGetty Images

The government's Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) said certain online adult content should not be permitted under "extreme pornography" laws falling within the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008.

Violent, obscene acts that are non-consensual or involve other criminal activity would be investigated by the law enforcement agencies, DCMS said.

"Pornography streamed online in the UK is subject to the same rules as that which is sold in shops. Extreme pornography depicting violence against women is not permitted online or offline," a DCMS spokeswoman said.

The DCMS and the Home Office have proposed a UK statutory duty of care called "Online Harms" to make companies take responsibility for the safety of their users and tackle harm caused by content or activity on their services.

Obscenity lawyer Myles Jackman said the concept of webcamming was a "growing phenomenon", but - as yet - there was "no specific law" related directly to govern it.

Adultwork.com - an adult advertising platform - said it had 7,000 UK-based webcam girls and internal moderator teams who policed content.

One of its membership rules states performers must not upload text, audio, images or movies that contain "sadomasochistic material which goes beyond trifling and transient infliction of injury".

What would 'Hope's Law' involve?

image copyrightStaffordshire Police
image captionA coroner ruled Hope Barden was unlawfully killed following an online web cam game

Hope's sister Lily said there needs to be specific guidelines in the online sex industry where the performer and the punter clearly understand what is and is not acceptable by law.

"The main thing that isn't acceptable is being able to watch someone (potentially) die on webcam and then not do anything about it," she said.

"What isn't acceptable is putting something around your neck which potentially could kill you and leave family and friends devastated and broken."

She said Dangar had a "duty of care" by contacting the emergency services when Hope became incapacitated, which could have saved her sister's life.

"He (Dangar) thrives off stuff like this. He wanted her to do this and it went terribly wrong," she said. "It was going to be a landmark case."

University student Lily, from Penzance, is also seeking a legal online contract between the webcam performer and consumer for a clear code of conduct.

"If there's anything positive that can come out of this ridiculous situation it's that young girls should be sensible and think about people you are going to hurt from your actions or just don't do it," she said.

"But I feel there should be some sort of electronic contract between the performer and the person paying or watching that they both understand - like a terms and conditions.

"If the performer is agreeing and contracted with whatever it is then they know what they're doing, and the guys or girls who are watching know what they are getting themselves into as well.

"That way there's no wires crossed."

What do charities have to say?

image captionCampaigner Karen Ingala Smith said men are "getting their kicks from women's pain and humiliation"

Two anti-violence against women organisations said tight regulations would reduce "risks" of webcam performers putting themselves in danger.

Rachel Krys, a co-director of End Violence Against Women Coalition, said Hope's death was an "appalling and preventable tragedy".

"This reveals the very serious risks women and girls are exposed to by the unregulated and dangerous industries of pornography and online prostitution," she said.

"Hope was failed by ways online forms of prostitution such as webcamming can be promoted as a safe and convenient way to earn money - which ignores the very real risks involved.

"The terrible truth is women and girls' lives are being put at risk every day as we don't have a proper system of laws and regulation to address these activities."

Karen Ingala Smith said Hope died over one man's desire to see "women degraded and vulnerable, close to death, dying or dead, for sexual gratification".

"More and more men get their kicks from women's pain and humiliation," said Ms Ingala Smith, chief executive of Nia, which supports women subjected to sexual and domestic violence.

"The law must stop allowing the insult to women that they were accidental victims, when in reality men chose women's pain as their route to orgasm.

"The law needs to catch up with the realities of how men use pornography."

'You have to be mentally strong'

image copyrightBex
image captionBex Shiner said she has been sent requests to harm herself, which she has always declined

Bex Shiner, a 32-year-old glamour model from Coventry who performs via webcam, said she had received a number of requests to suffocate herself online.

The former Big Brother star, who makes up to £5,000 per month from cam work, has also called for a safeguarding policy and background checks for performers to be introduced.

"I've had a number of disgusting offers but I've said 'no' and blocked the person and reported them (to the host server)," she said.

"You have to be mentally strong and prepared or you could get taken advantage of. You should never put yourself in dangerous situations.

"I think there should be safeguarding measures put in place, especially for young and potentially vulnerable women coming into the industry."

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