Page last updated at 11:57 GMT, Thursday, 4 June 2009 12:57 UK

Men behind 'orgy of bloodletting'

By Sarah Bell
BBC News

Two men have been jailed for life for the murders of French students Gabriel Ferez and Laurent Bonomo, who were stabbed almost 250 times in an "orgy of bloodletting", the court heard. But what is known about Dano Sonnex and Nigel Farmer?

Dano Sonnex and Nigel Farmer
Prosecutors labelled Sonnex and Farmer "psychopaths"

Dano Sonnex was a man who enjoyed using gratuitous violence, the Old Bailey heard.

For most ordinary people, the only explanation for the "sadistic ferocity" of the attack was that the killers must have been psychopaths, prosecutor Crispin Aylett QC said.

There is no evidence to suggest Sonnex suffered from mental illness, although he had revealed to one doctor while in prison for earlier armed robberies that he feared he might kill.

That information was never passed on and his high-risk status was later downgraded by the Prison Service to medium because of his good behaviour.

It seems Sonnex merely had an "utter contempt" for people.

His state of mind is illuminated by his reaction to being arrested on suspicion of murder.

Sonnex threatened a police officer, saying: "I'm going to bite your face off," then sat "laughing hysterically" in the back of the van.

During police interviews, Sonnex smirked when asked how long the students had taken to die and sniggered when shown pictures of their bodies.

Crime family

Mr Aylett told the jury the French students had been co-operating and probably expected they would be left unharmed by the robbers.

But he said: "What they did not reckon for is two people off their heads on a combination of drugs and drink egging each other on to greater levels of violence."

Sonnex, 23, comes from a family with a history of violence and crime.

The court heard his brother, Bernie Junior, had served 10 separate prison sentences, while his father, Bernie Senior, had been convicted of 47 offences, including gun and drug offences, and had served six jail sentences.

His sister, Louise, is currently in jail after being convicted of wounding and causing grievous bodily harm.

At the time of the murders, Sonnex was on licence after being released early from a five-year sentence he received after, at the age of 16, stabbing a man he barely knew three times.

The scene of the crime in New Cross
The pair apparently picked on the students' flat at random

Four months before killing the French students, Sonnex tied up his pregnant foster sister, also called Louise, and her boyfriend in a flat and demanded money from them.

In the attack, which bore "telling similarities" to the murders, the victims were bound with cable ties and threatened with a hammer.

Sonnex also placed pillowcases over their heads.

Fay Culyer, a former girlfriend of Sonnex's brother Bernie who also had a brief relationship with Farmer, told police Dano had confessed to the murders when they met in a pub a few days later and had "shrugged his shoulders".

"He just said that it's done now, you can't change it, he didn't seem fazed by it," she said.

She told police: "Nigel's an idiot, a div - he's a wally. Dano on the other hand, he's not right in the head. He would have taken the knife in."

Sonnex's evidence

Miss Culyer retracted this account at the Old Bailey, where she appeared heavily pregnant with a child fathered by Bernie Sonnex, who was in jail for an unrelated offence.

She said she had been confused during the police interviews and denied she was changing her story because she feared for her safety.

Despite his lack of a moral compass Dano did adhere to an old criminal code of conduct, which included not "grassing" on friends.

So when he gave evidence he refused to specifically name Farmer as his accomplice, but referred to him throughout as "my friend".

His propensity to use violence goes way beyond that which is necessary to commit crimes of this nature
Crispin Aylett QC

But he was clearly angered by Farmer's cut-throat defence, which claimed Sonnex was the sole killer.

So he sought to undermine Farmer's story while still steadfastly refusing to implicate him by name.

At one point Mr Aylett asked him: "You're saying Farmer did everything on his own? That means he had gone in and overpowered them and savagely attacked them?"

Sonnex replied: "My friend did kill them, I have come to terms with it."

Sonnex, who had never previously worn glasses until the night of the murder when he apparently stole a pair belonging to one of the victims, was bespectacled throughout the trial.

But his attempts to give himself a new, less sinister image, were undermined when he lost his temper with Mr Aylett's cross examination and had to be told repeatedly to calm down by the judge.

Low point

Farmer, 34, worked as a decorator on projects including the ITN and ICI buildings in central London, but his life spiralled downwards after his relationship with the mother of his twins broke down.

He drifted between the homes of various associates after leaving the family home, and his drug-taking and self-harming worsened.

Farmer developed a £100-a-day crack and heroin habit and eventually ended up lodging with the Sonnex family in Deptford.

Just a month before the murders he checked into a psychiatric hospital, telling his mother he was "scared of what he might do".

Gabriel Ferez (left) and Laurent Bonomo on CCTV
The students were caught on camera hours before their deaths

But he walked out after four days saying he was not getting the help he needed.

Farmer, who had a conviction for robbery, told the court: "I'd never felt so low in my life. I couldn't see my kids or anything. I felt I couldn't cope."

His defence attempted to paint him as a bemused figure watching from the periphery while members of the Sonnex family committed a series of violent attacks.

Bernie Junior was said to have shot a pub DJ five times in the head with a gas gun after he refused to play a Bob Marley song.

Farmer claimed to have heard him admitting to killing three people, the court heard.

But Farmer was not merely a passive observer in the aftermath of the murders.

Fay Culyer said she overheard a phone call from Farmer to Bernie Junior while he was in the students' flat, in which she heard shouting in the background and him swear and say: "Shut your mouth or I'll cut your hand off."

Farmer and Sonnex sought to pin the blame for events on each other but they both now face the prospect of spending many years behind bars.

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