Family jailed over man's 'depraved' torture and death

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The torture and death of a man whose headless body was dumped in a lake was branded "depraved" by a judge today as he sentenced six members of the same family.

Judge John Bevan QC made the comments at Luton Crown Court as he jailed three members of the Watt family for life for murdering Michael Gilbert and three others for familial homicide.

The 26-year-old was kept as a slave and tortured for his benefit money before being killed. His headless body was dumped in the Blue Lagoon in Arlesey, Bedfordshire, last year.

James Watt, 27, his girlfriend, Natasha Oldfield, 29, and his brother Richard's girlfriend, Nichola Roberts, 22, were jailed for life for murder today.

Watt will serve a minimum of 36 years, Oldfield a minimum of 18 and Roberts a minimum of 15.

James's brother, Robert Watt, 20, and his mother, Jennifer Smith-Dennis, 58, were jailed for eight years and 10 years respectively for familial homicide.

A third brother, Richard Watt, 25, who previously pleaded guilty to familial homicide was sentenced to six years in prison.

James, Robert and Richard Watt had pleaded guilty to perverting the course of justice and, on Friday, Roberts, Oldfield and Smith-Dennis were convicted by the jury.

James Watt was heard to say "Cheers" to the judge as he was sent down today.

During the trial, the court heard that Mr Gilbert was kept as a slave and tortured for his benefit money by members of the family at their home in Luton.

Detectives believe he died overnight between January 21 and 22 last year as a result of the abuse he had suffered.

His body was dismembered and dumped in the Blue Lagoon in Arlesey, where it was discovered in May last year.

Mr Gilbert's knee joints, forearm and elbow were missing, as well as his head, although his torso and some other body parts were present. His head was not discovered until February this year.

During the trial, the jury heard that "vulnerable" Mr Gilbert, who met James Watt at a children's home when they were 15, was treated as a slave by the family.

Police said he was "adopted" by them many years before his death and regularly assaulted and threatened.

The court heard he was hit with bats, shot, stabbed and made to walk around the house in only his boxer shorts.

On one occasion he was made to goad a large pet lizard until it attacked him with its tail.

Oldfield's diary included plans for a game show where contestants would pay £5 to slap him and £25 to headbutt him.

The 26-year-old escaped several times but they would find him and force him back - James Watt using his National Insurance number to pose as him and track him down.

Passing sentence today, the judge said the whole case was a "grotesque story".

He said Mr Gilbert died a "cruel, lonely and violent death" and that the description of him as a slave was only a "mild exaggeration".

He told the family: "In all my years, both on the bench and at the bar, I have only ever dealt with a handful of cases where the behaviour can properly be described as depraved and you can be rightly added to this list.

"How, in a civilised society, this behaviour was allowed to continue is a mystery."

The judge described the family as dysfunctional and compared them to a Hogarth cartoon.

He told James Watt he had shown "wholly exceptional brutality" and no trace of remorse throughout the trial.

He said: "You had your fun, now you must pay for it.

"You are dangerous, cruel, vindictive, spiteful and heartless."

He told the oldest brother he had considered giving him a whole-life sentence but decided not to as he would have seen it as a "badge of honour".

Richard Watt - who gave evidence for the prosecution in the trial - was sentenced separately from the other defendants.

Judge Bevan told him his biggest part was inaction and he had failed Mr Gilbert both in his life and in his death until he strengthened his resolve to tell the truth about what happened.

After the sentencing, the judge praised the jury for handling the case with "courtesy, skill and tact" and also commended the police officers involved in the investigation.

He said: "You have conducted a difficult investigation with skill.

"Whatever the failings of the authorities in this case, Michael's refusal of help tied their hands."

Mr Gilbert's mother, Rosalie White, did not want to comment after the sentence but his sister, Patricia Bussey, said: "It's about time it's been done, it's been dragging on for long enough.

"Michael has been tortured long enough and now he can finally be left in peace."

Speaking of James Watt's reaction to his sentence, she said: "All I can say is it's only going to be him that's going to regret everything that's happened. I hope they rot, I really do.

"You just can't get your head round how sick people can be."

At the end of the trial on Friday, the Luton Safeguarding Of Vulnerable Adults Board (Sova) announced a serious case review will be held.

Detective Chief Inspector Jon Humphries, from the Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire Major Crime Unit, said the callousness shown by the defendants was beyond anything he had seen in more than 26 years' service.

Today he said: "We're very pleased that this has come to a successful conclusion.

"I think the sentences accurately reflect the nature of the violence that was meted out over the course of the last 10 years.

"The words that stick in my mind from the judge are 'grotesque' and 'depraved' over the nature of the behaviour that led to Michael's death."

During the trial, the court heard that the household income at the time of Mr Gilbert's death was £3,953.72 a month - £2,253.72 of which were benefits, including the 26-year-old's.

James Watt had 14 previous convictions, including affray and shooting someone with an airgun, and Robert Watt had two, including battery and theft, while their mother had no previous convictions.

Oldfield had been cautioned for affray, while Roberts had one caution and four convictions for making off without payment.

Mitigating for James Watt, Andrew Jefferies QC said he could not explain why the 27-year-old meted out such violence to Mr Gilbert.

Michael Borrelli QC, representing Robert Watt, said he was a vulnerable adult himself and had been on the "at-risk register".

Mr Borrelli said: "For the first eight years of his life, he grew up in an environment where to say that he was set no example is not quite right.

"He was set an appalling example and his perception of what was right and wrong must surely have been distorted."

Geoffrey Birch, for Smith-Dennis, told the court she had a difficult background, including an abusive first marriage.

He said Antonio Watt - who was acquitted of familial homicide and perverting the course of justice - left her to deal with their four sons alone.

"It is rather too simplistic to place at her door the responsibility for the mayhem and dysfunction that we have heard about in such detail over the past weeks."

Abbas Lakha QC, for Richard Watt, said he had been consumed by remorse and guilt over Mr Gilbert's death.