Page last updated at 11:16 GMT, Friday, 23 April 2010 12:16 UK

Troubled life of lagoon murder victim Michael Gilbert

By Julian Sturdy
BBC East

Michael Gilbert
Michael Gilbert's headless body was found at a gravel pit pool

Michael Gilbert led a troubled life. He had been in and out of care as a teenager.

Described as vulnerable, he was someone who was easily led. He was said to be a quiet boy and short on confidence.

As a teenager, he ended up in the Brambles Children's Home in Luton. This is where he met James Watt and Natasha Oldfield.

The pair have now been convicted of his murder, along with Nicola Roberts.

Three others involved in the case at Luton Crown Court were guilty of familial homicide, while one, Antonio Watt, was cleared of this charge.

Even in Mr Gilbert's childhood there were signs of his vulnerability. His case worker at the children's home remembered him as "the fall guy" for other children and someone who "just wanted to fit in".

It was a pattern which was repeated in school. At Halyards High in Luton, one of his best friends was Richard Armstrong.

"He was a loner," said Mr Armstrong.

I often sit and think of you and think of how you died. To think you could not say goodbye before you closed your eyes
Michael Gilbert's mother, Rosalie

"He had a lot of problems with bullying as a 15 or 16-year-old. It was horrible stuff. Names drawn on him. He just sat there and took it.

"He had a difficult upbringing. He could be clever, he just struggled. He was a very private kind of guy."

Mr Gilbert was not academic. But he did pass a mock GCSE in English in a young offenders' centre.

On leaving school, he drifted around Luton. He tried a few jobs, including working as a door-to-door salesman with Anglian Windows but eventually failed in that.

Mr Gilbert's sister, Patricia, went out with one of the Watt brothers and Michael used to come and stay at the family home. This later became the catalyst for the abuse that was eventually to lead to his death.

His mother, Rosie, and three other brothers still live in Luton, but he was partly estranged at this time.

Mr Gilbert was unemployed and had nowhere to stay. In 2002, he moved in with the Watts in Yeovil Road, a council semi in a road plagued by graffiti. He paid rent to Jenny Smith Dennis for his keep.

He had a girlfriend and was well known by people living in the street.

'Control freak'

But all this changed when James Watt was told of an allegation concerning Mr Gilbert's past. The beatings began - almost daily.

Mr Gilbert escaped and spent time on the street, but he was found by the brothers and made to go back to Yeovil Road.

The family was evicted in September 2002 following a series of complaints about their behaviour.

They moved into Russell Street in Luton, and Mr Gilbert went too.

The violence became increasingly serious and humiliating. He was attacked with a knife and an air gun. He tried to escape, but was always caught.

James Watt was described in court as a control freak who was obsessed with finding Mr Gilbert.

He used his national insurance number to impersonate him, ringing up the benefits office to find out where he had been been signing on.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing. I don't think anyone could have predicted where we are today
Det Ch Insp Jon Humphries

Mr Gilbert started a new life in Blackburn, but they tracked him down again, kidnapping him from the job centre and driving him back to Luton.

In 2004, the Watts moved into another council property in Halyard Close. This was a bad time for their victim.

He was their slave. He did all the cooking and cleaning and there were regular beatings.

He was punched, kicked and attacked with a baseball bat and an airgun.

Airgun pellets were found in his body during the post-mortem examination.

The ritual humiliations included sexual assaults. He even had to have treatment in hospital for a stab wound, but he never complained, telling staff he had been cut by someone walking by in the street.

He would take part in some of the brother's criminal activities and in 2006 he became the "fall guy" in one crime and was jailed for a short time after taking the blame.

In 2007, he had a chance to escape. He was arrested in Luton town centre on an allegation of rape and taken into custody.

A DNA sample cleared him, but the police knew about the alleged abduction and beating, but Mr Gilbert refused to press charges, telling detectives "it would make it worse for me in the long run".

James Watt was waiting in reception but a detective agreed to drive him to the train station and he was given a ticket to Cambridge so he could get away without their knowledge.

'Child-like man'

Soon after he was seen by a friend, back in Luton, with a large bruise on the back of his head.

James Watt had found him again outside Cambridge job centre and bundled him into a car.

It was witnessed by Mr Gilbert's friend Darrell Everest who said "he looked petrified".

Darrell Everest filed a missing persons report online and also reported it to the police.

Det Ch Insp Jon Humphries said the kidnap had been investigated.

He said: "He was offered assistance... we helped him get back to Cambridge where he was happy and he didn't require any further assistance.

"Hindsight is a wonderful thing. I don't think anyone could have predicted where we are today."

Feeling of belonging

Mr Gilbert also slept rough in Cambridge where Outreach worker Ross Watkins remembered him as a pleasant, but child-like, young man.

"He was quite innocent, trying to impress people. He was naïve streetwise. Scared of dealing with authority. He used to lend out lots of his benefit money."

So why did he stay with the Watts? One reason is that he was simply scared of James Watt. He knew the family would find him if he tried to escape.

But secondly, he needed the feeling of belonging, despite the abuse.

When one brother, Richard, asked him why he put up with it, Michael replied: "I love you lot. You are my family."

Michael Gilbert's mother Rosalie White said: "Many times he came back he had been battered.

"He came back loads of times. I got him somewhere to live."

His mother wrote in a poem: "He bid no-one a last farewell. He raised his hand to no-one. His spirit flew before we knew that from us had gone. I often sit and think of you and think of how you died. To think you could not say goodbye before you closed your eyes."

Michael Gilbert

Mike Cartwright reports on the troubled life of Michael Gilbert



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