On 10th May 2009, parts of Michael Gilbert’s dismembered body were found by men walking dogs by a lake near Luton. His head was found in February this year in the same lake. Michael was just 26 when he was killed. He had been abused, tortured, filmed for entertainment and stolen from by members of the Watt family—who were known to police and other agencies—for around ten years. He considered them to be his family.
Today a jury in Luton brought in guilty verdicts against six people connected to the Watt family, who were found to have committed familial homicide or murder against Michael Gilbert, a disabled man.
They had held him captive for many years, said the prosecutor; they had robbed him, assaulted him, shot him, stabbed him and filmed their assaults for entertainment—even creating a gameshow about his torture.
Michael tried to get away several times. Each time family members tracked him down, using his national insurance number, and brought him back. He and the few friends he had did raise concerns, a number of times, over eight years, about his wellbeing. But few official inquiries were made and the alarm was never raised.
Just a few days before his murder, he was brought to the jobcentre to sign on and cash his giro cheque. The benefits worker, shocked at his appearance, asked him if he needed medical assistance. Michael, intimidated by the only family that seemed to want him (he was largely estranged from his natural family), refused help. A few days later, he died. The family then dismembered him, wrapped his remains in bin bags and threw him in a lake.
I was in court and heard some of the testimony and the judge’s summing up. I saw Michael’s mother, grey with grief, hear the catalogue of abuse that Michael had suffered. Other family members were also there. They were shocked by what had happened to him.
Of the 100 or so cases of disability hate crime I have looked at in my investigations for a number of newspapers and charities over the last three years, this is one of the worst. Many other cases have similar hallmarks: the victims were robbed, assaulted, even tortured over long periods of time by people they considered…