Page last updated at 17:46 GMT, Friday, 12 February 2010

County Durham torture murderer jailed for life

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

A man convicted of helping torture to death his ex-lover's partner in County Durham has been sentenced to life in prison, with a minimum of 20 years.

Steve Martin, 44, contributed to weeks of abuse against Andrew Gardner, 35, who died at a house in Chilton in March 2008.

Clare Nicholls, the victim's partner, and her brother Simon, 25, were last month jailed for life for murder.

Mr Gardner was starved, beaten and burnt, suffering more than 150 wounds.

During the two-week trial, Teesside Crown Court heard the victim, who had learning difficulties, suffered agonising broken ribs from being kneed, and died in excruciating pain.

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

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

When he cried, abuse was daubed on his body in nail varnish.

Police believed Mr Gardner initially endured the abuse because he feared he would lose contact with his baby daughter if he left mother-of-four Nicholls, 28, the court was told.

All three had denied murder and the Crown rejected a plea of manslaughter by Clare Nicholls, who was described as the ringleader.

Both Nicholls and brother, Simon, were sentenced in January. She was told she must serve at least 32 years in jail and her brother is to serve at least 25 years.

Martin's sentencing took place after psychiatric reports.

Martin, whose IQ of 59 placed him in the bottom 1% of the population, was invited to move into the family home by Clare Nicholls some weeks before Mr Gardner's murder, the court heard.

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

He poured boiling water over his victim's feet, held him against a hot radiator, had sex with Clare Nicholls in front of him and whipped him with knotted tea towels, the court heard.

The recorder of Middlesbrough, Judge Peter Fox, said: "Even if that did not contribute to his physical death, such callous acts must have played their part in breaking his spirit and clearly demonstrated your deliberate disregard for his humanity.

"It was the perverted pleasure in the suffering of another.

"There is no more accurate word than sadistic to describe it."

Martin was told he must serve a minimum of 20 years of his life sentence.

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