Jail term for wife whose disabled husband lived in squalid conditions
A woman and her partner who enslaved her vulnerable disabled husband leaving him to live in squalid conditions have both been jailed for 11 years.
Sarah Somerset-How, 49, and George Webb, 40, were found guilty of holding Tom Somerset-How in slavery/servitude and three counts of ill-treatment by a care worker between 2016 and 2020 following a trial at Portsmouth Crown Court.
Webb, whose temper was described by the victim as a “nuclear bomb anger”, was also convicted of causing actual bodily harm while both defendants were found not guilty of fraud by false representation and theft.
The court was told that the pair, from Bognor Regis, West Sussex, neglected, abused and exploited 40-year-old Mr Somerset-How, who was left bed-bound and malnourished.
The trial heard that the pair’s treatment of Mr Somerset-How, who has cerebral palsy and uses an electric wheelchair, was uncovered by a friend as well as by the victim’s sister Kate Somerset-Holmes, an actress who has appeared in Silent Witness and Holby City.
In a victim impact statement read to the court, Mr Somerset-How described how he was shocked to find out that his wife and Mr Webb had a “five-year plan” to continue their exploitation of him and that they “despised” him.
He said: “The extent of the betrayal was hard to bear for a long time, I felt I was just being kept alive, when the reality sank in, this really was my life, I wanted to end it all, I couldn’t even manage that.”
He added: “I feel like Sarah has ruined me for anyone else, I feel abandoned like I was pushed to one side, I couldn’t trust the one person who should have been on my side.”
He continued: “Before I met Sarah, I had a career, I went to the cinema and the pub, I had friends and I had a great life.
“When we first got together, she and I would do these things together, when George came into our lives, these things stopped.”
He said that he had been worried that he would not have been able to build bridges with his family, including his mother, who he had pushed away while being “monitored” by his wife and Webb to ensure he did not reveal their treatment of him.
He said: “I couldn’t explain to her what was happening, I thought it was better they stay away, protect them from George and the nuclear bomb that was his anger.”
Mr Somerset-How said that he was now living in a care institution but had ambitions to live more independently again.
Describing his frustration at his treatment, he said that in his care home room he would scream a “primal scream” until he lost his voice.
Sentencing the defendants, Judge William Ashworth praised Mr Somerset-How for his “courage” and said: “I find as fact of which I am sure that Tom Somerset-How was held in slavery for at least two years and eight months, kept in bed, deprived of adequate food or water, kept away from his family with the curtains drawn, frequently in his own urine and excrement, unwashed and unkempt.”
He added: “He was denigrated by the defendants and humiliated and his requests to go to the toilet scorned.”
The judge described how the defendants mocked Mr Somerset-How’s disability by comparing him to the movie alien ET and said he had suffered “serious psychological harm”.
He added: “He had lost any independence and was treated like a cow to be milked.
“But, in our society, a cow is protected by minimum standards of husbandry and not even these were afforded to Tom by his carers.”
The judge said that Webb exploited Mr Somerset-How with the aim of saving up money to pay for a music studio for his ambition to become a DJ.
Describing the case, a Sussex Police spokesman said: “Sarah Somerset-How conspired with her husband’s carer, George Webb to leave their victim bed-bound and malnourished while they took advantage of him for their own gains.
“Webb was originally hired as a live-in carer for Somerset-How’s 40-year-old husband, who required round-the-clock care, in 2016.
“Over the next four years, Somerset-How’s husband was physically and psychologically abused, left without sufficient food and drink and forced to live in squalid conditions.
“He was separated from his family, who reported the situation to the police in August 2020, after he revealed the horrific circumstances in which he was living.
“He was moved to safe accommodation while an investigation was launched.
“Texts from the defendants’ mobile phones showed they had become involved in a sexual relationship and intentionally neglected their victim to take drugs and plan nights away.”
Detective Constable Cheyne Garrett said: “Sarah Somerset-How and George Webb totally betrayed their innocent victim, who relied on them both for the most basic of human needs.
“The scale of their depravity was revealed thanks to the tenacity of a friend who alerted the victim’s family.
“They acted quickly to report their concerns despite Somerset-How and Webb’s efforts to isolate them.
“I would like to thank them for raising the alarm, and the victim in this case for supporting the investigation through to conviction under extremely challenging circumstances.
“No romantic relationship, friendship or working relationship should make you feel unsafe and isolated from friends and family.
“If you feel bullied, trapped, fearful, or someone is telling you that who you are isn’t good enough, please ask for help.”
Speaking outside court, Mr Somerset-How said: “Justice has been served.”
He added: “It is the best outcome I could hope for, it will help me move forward and I can’t thank the lawyers, the police and the judge enough for what they have done.
“It won’t undo the psychological damage but the positives I have taken from this will help me move forward in my life.”
Speaking about the defendants, he said: “I can’t articulate how I feel, obviously it’s completely negative towards them but because I have suppressed it for so long I can’t articulate it so I would rather move forward rather than focus on how they make me feel.”
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