The Michael Sams Trial: Kidnapper who killed teenager is jailed for life: Jury told of an obsessive character's cruel campaign to extract ransoms and outwit his pursuers

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The Independent Online
MICHAEL SAMS, the kidnapper of the estate agent Stephanie Slater, was sentenced to life imprisonment yesterday for the murder and kidnap of Julie Dart, his first victim.

After a retirement of three and a half hours on the 22nd day of the trial, the jury at Nottingham Crown Court found Sams, a one-legged toolmaker from Sutton on Trent, Nottinghamshire, guilty of kidnapping and murdering Miss Dart, 18, a prostitute from Leeds, two attempts to blackmail police and an extortion demand against British Rail.

Sams, who had pleaded guilty to kidnapping and imprisoning Miss Slater and making a pounds 175,000 ransom demand on her employees, Shipways Estate Agents, showed no emotion when sentenced to four life terms by Mr Justice Judge. He received 10 years for each of the four blackmail attempts. The verdicts were greeted with shouts and applause from the public gallery, packed with relatives of Miss Dart as well as Miss Slater and her family. Lynn Dart, Miss Dart's mother, shouted 'you bastard,' and collapsed in tears.

Miss Slater, who was held in a wooden box by Sams for seven days in January last year, cried and mouthed 'thank you' at the jury.

Mr Justice Judge said Sams was 'an extremely dangerous and evil man' who was a menace to society. His letters demanding money from the police following the murder of Miss Dart had showed 'no qualms, no remorse'. When Miss Slater had been kidnapped, said the judge, there was no doubt that she had been in 'mortal danger' initially. 'The ordeal you inflicted on her is something only the rest of us can imagine. However dreadful we imagine it, the reality must have been far worse.'

Afterwards, Mrs Dart said: 'Justice has been done at last.'

Police believe that Sams, 51, planned the kidnap to raise his self- esteem by outwitting the police and to raise money. He was arrested after the first of his three wives heard a tape of his voice and saw an artist's drawing of the kidnapper on Crimewatch UK.

Miss Slater, speaking on Central Television last night, said that she had been terrified when she realised Sams killed Julie Dart. 'I I am glad I did not know about it then. It would have been 10 times worse. I do not think I would have been as calm as I was.' Miss Dart was probably murdered because she either tried to escape or saw the face of her abductor. Six months later, in January 1992, Miss Slater survived by keeping her nerve and winning Sams' trust and admiration.

Richard Wakerley QC, for the prosecution, told the jury that Sams was so arrogant that he wanted to prove to himself and others that kidnap and blackmail could be carried out successfully.

'He began to take pleasure in the execution of his plan, and in so doing, he treated it as a game to be played against the police with the prize of the ransom money and 'catch me if you can',' he said. Sams posed as a client in a red-light district of Leeds and kidnapped Miss Dart, blindfolded her, tied her up and gagged her. He drove back to his Newark workshop where he kept her in a wooden box. His victim was forced to write a note to her boyfriend saying she had been kidnapped.

Sams then wrote a note to police in Leeds demanding pounds 140,000 for Miss Dart's safe return. Mr Wakerley said Sams laid down complicated plans for a ransom pick-up seven days later but before it could be carried out, he had murdered his hostage, hitting her over the head and then strangling her. He wrapped her in a sheet, tied it with rope, put it in a bin and dumped it near Grantham, Lincolnshire.

The prosecution said Sams wrote further letters to Leeds police threatening to kill other prostitutes and firebomb shops. 'The time has come to collect my pounds 140,000 from you,' he wrote in one letter. 'I don't get any bigger sentence for two murders. Prostitutes are easy to pick up.'

He set out a complicated route for the payment of the ransom but it broke down when a promised phone call was missed.

The jury was told that Sams then demanded pounds 200,000 from British Rail, or an express train would be derailed. To show he meant business, he suspended a block of sandstone from a bridge in Staffordshire in an effort to damage a train. The ransom delivery trail was due to start with a coded telephone call to Crewe railway station. But although Sams abandoned the plot, police later discovered in his wallet a list of telephone numbers which matched those of call boxes at Crewe station. Sams then switched his efforts to the kidnap of Miss Slater. Posing as a prospective buyer, he abducted her as she showed him round a house in Great Barr, Birmingham. Armed with a knife and a chisel, Sams knocked her into the bath, bound, gagged and blindfolded her and then bundled her into his waiting car.

Manacled around her wrists and ankles, she was imprisoned in a coffin-shaped box in Sams's workshop. Her arms were chained and she was told she would be crushed or electrocuted if she tried to get away.

Sams had set up an infra-red detector to focus on the box in case Miss Slater escaped. It was connected to the redial button on the telephone, which would dial his home number seven miles away in the village of Sutton on Trent.

Describing Stephanie's ordeal, Mr Wakerley paid tribute to her courage. 'I do not mean raw courage but her ability to keep her head. She was terrified. She had thought she was going to die. She realised that her life was in his hands and her best chance of survival lay in doing exactly what he said.'

(Photographs omitted)