Page last updated at 12:18 GMT, Friday, 23 April 2010 13:18 UK

Life of abuse from people Michael Gilbert called family

By Jon Kelly
BBC News

Michael Gilbert
Michael Gilbert was forced to sleep handcuffed to a bed

It was a gruesome, squalid end to years of abuse and humiliation.

The headless, dismembered body of Michael Gilbert, 26, was found in a Bedfordshire lake in May 2009.

This discovery would lead police to uncover how the vulnerable young man was kept as a domestic slave by a family and tortured for his benefit payments.

Luton Crown Court heard that for years he was regularly subjected to sickening assaults "for entertainment" by members of the Watt clan and their associates.

Now James Watt, 27, James's girlfriend Natasha Oldfield, 29, and Nichola Roberts, 21, have all been found guilty of his murder.

James's brother Robert Watt, 20, and his mother Jennifer Smith-Dennis, 58, were found guilty of familial homicide - a charge that third brother, Richard Watt, 25, had previously admitted.

'Dogsbody and slave'

During their trial, Stuart Trimmer QC for the Crown said Mr Gilbert - described as a "vulnerable adult" who had met James Watt at the age of 15 in a children's home - had been held captive at the Watts' Luton home for years and subjected to "beating after beating".

Natasha Oldfield, James Watt and Nichola Roberts
Natasha Oldfield, James Watt and Nichola Roberts were all guilty of murder

Mr Trimmer said Mr Gilbert was their "dogsbody and their slave". His benefit money was taken from him and he was forced to sleep handcuffed to a bed to prevent his escape.

Mr Trimmer said Mr Gilbert would be kicked, punched and forced to drink his own urine, as well as being attacked with a baseball bat, a knife and a snooker ball. He was dropped on his head and made to stand in boiling water. Some of the beatings were recorded on mobile phones.

Oldfield - the girlfriend of James Watt - wrote a plan for a "game show" in which sums of money were linked to different assaults on Mr Gilbert.

Written above these were the words "Gilbert ends up dead".

One day I said to him 'why are you putting up with it?' and he said to me 'I love you lot, you are my family'
Richard Watt

A picture emerged of James Watt - who had 14 previous convictions for 22 different offences - as the ringleader of the abuse.

Giving evidence for the prosecution, his brother Richard Watt agreed with a suggestion by defence lawyers that James was a "control freak and a violent bully".

Richard said he was "too scared" of his brother to get help and was warned by his mother, Jennifer Smith-Dennis to "think of the outcome".

Tracked down

Having drifted apart from his own family, Mr Gilbert felt he had nowhere else to turn. And the beatings and intimidation appear to have cowed him into submission.

His mother, Rosalie White, 49, said the opening day of the trial - when the scale of abuse was revealed for the first time - was the worst day of her life.

FAMILIAL HOMICIDE
Introduced as part of the Domestic Violence Crime and Victims Act 2004
Closed a legal loophole that had previously allowed those jointly accused of the murder of a child, or vulnerable adult, to escape justice by remaining silent or blaming each other
Carries a prison sentence of up to 14 years

"If Michael could have just fought back just once and defended himself years ago when it started, the violence would have ended," she added. "Instead he would stand there and take it.

"It was like he was always an adolescent even when he was a grown man."

It is unclear how Mr Gilbert fell under James Watt's clutches, but the two met in a children's home at the age of 15.

The Watt household was chaotic. Friends, girlfriends and associates passed through. Few worked and those of school age rarely went to school. A menagerie of lizard, snakes and dogs added to the bedlam.

In Luton, the family were notorious. Neighbours were terrorised, bullied and intimidated - but none more so than Michael Gilbert.

To prevent Mr Gilbert from escaping, his clothes were confiscated - and when he did manage to abscond, he was ruthlessly tracked down and punished.

However, on two occasions he did manage to get away to Cambridge and Blackburn. But he was found and "forcibly brought back", jurors heard.

Richard said James Watt became "obsessed" with finding Mr Gilbert when he escaped.

The family would call the Department of Work and Pensions, impersonate him using his National Insurance number, ask where he had last signed on - and lie in wait outside the benefit office.

The police became aware of allegations Mr Gilbert had been abducted from the street in Cambridge after the Watts tracked him down.

Robert Watt, Jennifer Smith-Dennis and Richard Watt
Robert Watt and Jennifer Smith-Dennis were found guilty of familial homicide, which Richard Watt admitted

He confirmed to officers this was true, but told them he did not want to pursue a complaint because "it would make it worse for me in the long run".

Det Ch Insp Jon Humphries of Bedfordshire Police said he believed nothing more could have been done by the authorities to save him, adding that "I think all did their best at the time".

His brother Aaron, 29, said: "I used to think 'Why are you going back there to them?' but I think Michael realised that the Watts would eventually catch up with him and it would mean more hassle for his own family."

Extreme pain

Mr Trimmer said there was an escalation in the level of violence in the run-up to Mr Gilbert's death.

James Watt devised a new method of inflicting suffering on him - forcing him to lie on the floor and jumping on his stomach with both feet. Nichola Roberts also took part in this abuse, the court heard.

Robert said: 'We killed Michael'... I just walked out crying
Colin Watt

Afterwards Mr Gilbert, in extreme pain, lost control of his bowels and was barely able to walk.

Richard Watt said he died soon afterwards, between 21 and 22 January 2009.

Another brother, Colin Watt, told the jury he had moved out of the family home shortly before Mr Gilbert's death after witnessing increasing violence towards him.

Colin said: "It made me feel ill. I thought, I can't take no more of it, I am going."

He told the court Robert Watt had asked him to go home because they had something to tell him.

"Robert said: 'We killed Michael'," Colin Watt told the court. "I just walked out crying."

Internal injuries

The prosecution said that the family dismembered his body and dumped it in a lake called the Blue Lagoon, near Luton.

James, Robert and Richard Watt admitted perverting the course of justice, while Smith-Dennis, Oldfield and Roberts were all found guilty of the charge.

His decapitated corpse, embedded with airgun pellets, had been weighed down with a stone from the patio in the Watts' back garden, the court heard.

All in that household knew of his situation and most took part in the abuse
Stuart Trimmer QC
Prosecuting

But most of the decomposing parts were found in May 2009 when they came to the surface, sparking the police inquiry. The head was discovered on 4 February 2010, just weeks before the trial began.

A pathologist who examined the body said he could not be certain how Mr Gilbert died, but Dr Nat Carey did find a stab wound that had cut an artery and internal injuries.

Mr Trimmer said: "All in that household knew of his situation and most took part in the abuse.

"None of the defendants took any action to prevent what was an escalating level of abuse that eventually led to his death."

But the most tragic evidence in the trial came when Richard Watt recalled a conversation he had with Mr Gilbert.

Richard said: "One day I said to him 'why are you putting up with it?' and he said to me 'I love you lot, you are my family'."



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SEE ALSO
Three guilty of murdering 'slave'
23 Apr 10 |  Beds/Bucks/Herts
Man acquitted in lake murder case
17 Mar 10 |  Beds/Bucks/Herts
Son denies parents' role in death
11 Mar 10 |  Beds/Bucks/Herts
Doctor unsure over cause of death
05 Mar 10 |  Beds/Bucks/Herts
Brother 'too scared' to get help
04 Mar 10 |  Beds/Bucks/Herts
Sister tells of 'climate of fear'
02 Mar 10 |  Beds/Bucks/Herts
Family 'admitted killing slave'
26 Feb 10 |  Beds/Bucks/Herts
Murder victim 'tortured for cash'
23 Feb 10 |  Beds/Bucks/Herts
Man's head found at beauty spot
18 Feb 10 |  Beds/Bucks/Herts



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