Page last updated at 15:49 GMT, Friday, 22 January 2010

Life terms for torture murderers

Clare and Simon Nicholls
Clare and Simon Nicholls had denied murdering Mr Gardner

A mother and her brother have been jailed for life for the murder of a County Durham man tortured to death.

Clare Nicholls, 28, and her brother Simon, 24, were convicted of the murder of her partner Andrew Gardner, 35, at a house they shared in Chilton in 2008.

The mother-of-four was told she must serve at least 32 years in jail. Her brother will serve at least 25 years.

Nicholls' ex-lover Steven Martin, 44, was also convicted of murder and will be sentenced after psychiatric reports.

All three had denied murder.

Teesside Crown Court heard how Mr Gardner was burnt and beaten over a period of weeks before his death at the house in Chilton in March 2008.

A jury was told how helpless Mr Gardner suffered weeks of agonising violence.

During the two-week trial Clare Nicholls admitted manslaughter, but her plea was rejected by the Crown.

Andrew Gardner
Mr Gardner suffered more than 100 separate injuries, the court was told

Mr Gardner was father to the youngest of his partner's four children.

He had 21 rib fractures, burns to his feet, neck and back, whip-like marks on his body, severe bruising and brain bleeding.

Crude abuse was daubed on his body in nail varnish when he cried.

Jurors wept when they heard that youngsters were encouraged to join in the attacks at the house they shared in Arthur Street, Chilton.

Marks caused by a sharp object were found on his body, described by Home Office pathologist Dr Nigel Cooper as "a grotesque game of noughts and crosses".

Boiling water was poured over his feet in the bath, he was held against a hot radiator and scorched with a cigarette lighter.

Mr Gardner, who weighed 8st 14lb (57kg) was banned from eating and was forced to steal food from cupboards, and received more punishment when he got caught.

Paramedics were called to the house on 13 March last year but, Mr Gardner had been dead for some time.

Medical evidence showed he was incapacitated by a second, painful set of rib injuries, probably caused by jumps or stamps, and that he took "some time to die".

Steven Martin
Steven Martin joined in the sadistic attacks on Andrew Gardner

After the verdict, Mr Gardner's mother Jean said: "The thoughts of what went on at the hands and direction of that evil woman has left me with nightmares that will probably never go away.

"Andrew was a pleasant, caring, loving lad, who kept out of trouble and was never violent to anyone.

"It's unspeakable what she and the others did. You don't do that to another human being."

Ch Insp Mick Nail added: "This has been the worst case of violence Durham Constabulary has had to investigate.

"The injuries that Andrew Gardner suffered could well have been inflicted by medieval torturers.

"Claire Nicholls led and orchestrated the abuse and degradation of Andrew and topped his suffering with humiliation - made worse by the fact that she involved her own children."

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