A reporter from the Sun newspaper recently contacted me via Facebook Messenger. Initially, his message puzzled me.
'Would it be possible to talk to you about Stef Brizzi?'
I had no idea why a journalist from a tabloid newspaper would want to talk to me about someone I had never even heard of. I quickly googled the name Stef Brizzi. It was only then that I realised who I was dealing with - the man who was recently convicted at The Old Bailey for murdering PC Gordon Semple at his flat on a Peabody Estate in South London. I felt physically sick when I recalled some of the more grisly details of the case. How Stefano Brizzi, who was obsessed with the US hit TV drama 'Breaking Bad', had dismembered Semple's body then dissolved the body parts in acid. How the neighbours had complained of a revolting smell coming from Brizzi's flat, and how Brizzi had lost his job as a computer programmer at Morgan Stanley in Canary Wharf due to his spiralling addiction to crystal meth. But why would a reporter from the Sun want to talk to me about a man who, when he was arrested for Semple's murder, declared that Satan had told him to do it? A man who allegedly liked satanic rituals which involved having sex over the sign of a pentagram. Did my novel Pharmakeia, a cautionary Faustian tale about sex magick and demonic possession, have anything to do with it? In a state of paranoia and confusion I replied to the tabloid reporter's message. I asked him why he wanted to talk to me about Brizzi, seeing that I didn't know him or had even met him.
'I noticed you're friends with him on Facebook,' he replied. 'Do you know him very well?'
I logged onto Facebook and sure enough there was a mug-shot of cop killer Stefano Brizzi. Unable to stomach looking at his actual profile, I immediately unfriended then blocked him. How had I allowed someone who had brutally murdered another human being then attempted to dispose of his body in the most inhumane manner possible, to become a Facebook 'friend'? Then it suddenly hit me. The man who had committed one of the most horrific murders in British criminal history would have been privy to all my posts, photos and personal information. I felt violated. I berated myself for not having vetted Facebook friend requests more carefully. But I also realised that I was not alone in sometimes accepting friend requests on social media platforms from virtual strangers. I was also not alone in using geo-sexual networking sites like Grindr - the app Gordon Semple used - to hook up with men I had never met before.
Chemsex, a British documentary film released in December 2015, graphically portrays a world where vulnerable gay men, with issues around sex, hook up on apps like Grindr and binge for days on socially disinhibiting, libido-enhancing drugs such as crystal meth, GHB and methadrone. Brizzi was high on crystal meth when he strangled Semple to death. Crystal meth is an extremely dangerous drug and in high enough doses it is well-known for inducing paranoia, psychosis and even late-onset schizophrenia. Is this why Brizzi, when first arrested, is reported to have told detectives that 'on crystal meth the voice was consistent, a very clear voice said you must kill, you must kill, you must kill.'
Unfortunately, Stefano Brizzi was not the only gay killer to be convicted of murder at The Old Bailey in November. Stephen Port, a 41 year-old chef from London, was found guilty of raping and murdering four young gay men, and dumping two of their bodies in a graveyard not far from his flat in Barking, East London. However his method of murder differed from Brizzi's. Rather than strangling his victims, he spiked their drinks with a fatal amount of the drug Gamma-Hydroxybutyrate, otherwise known as GHB, a potent anaesthetic which depresses the central nervous system. The exact nature of Port's insatiable sexual appetite also differed from Brizzi's. The jury were told that Porter had a fetish for sex with unconscious boyish-looking men. David Etheridge QC added that Port had '... graduated from a fetish to a fixation, from a fixation to a compulsion.' But both Port and Brizzi shared the practice of using geo-sexual networking apps like Grindr to lure their victims.
I think it is fair to say that these brutal murders have shocked both the LGBT and wider community. There is currently an on-going investigation into institutionalised homophobia with the Metropolitan Police Service due to the appalling failure to catch multiple murderer Stephen Port. But are there other lessons that can be learnt from this recent spate of murders committed by gay men against other gay men? Personally, I think it pays to be more vigilant on social media. I, for one, will be monitoring both my Facebook and Twitter accounts more carefully in future. I also think it is important to be aware of the dangers inherent in using gay sexual networking apps like Grindr to hook up with guys on the spur of the moment who may be high, hung and horny but may also harbour dark and taboo sexual fantasies or be mentally ill.
Many gay men, courtesy of Grindr or Gaydar, will be familiar with the experience of turning up at a complete stranger's doorstep in the early hours of the morning in a state of drug-fuelled sexual excitement. But the desire to prolong the party can cloud our better judgement. The truth is we know next to nothing about the mystery man behind that gym-trained headless torso profile pic. But tragic stories of men who have been involved in the chemsex scene are beginning to emerge. They paint a dark and disturbing picture of a world where drug overdoses, sexual violence, and even the practice of 'pozzing someone up' (knowingly infecting someone with HIV) are commonplace. Is it worth the risk?