michael gilbert

  • Vulnerable Michael Gilbert was stabbed, shot at with an air gun and treated like a dog for a decade
  • Criminal family hacked up body and dumped him in a lake
  • Police ignored his pleas for help claiming he had 'invented his injuries'
Police and social services repeatedly failed a vulnerable young man who was tortured and imprisoned for a decade before his headless body was found dumped in a lake.

Two separate reports into the murder of Michael Gilbert, 26, found he was let down by numerous professionals from early childhood until his body was found dumped in the Blue Lagoon in Arlesey, Bedfordshire, in 2009.

He was kept as a slave by a family known to the police, beaten and sexually abused before being killed while his captors claimed his benefit money.

Three police investigations involving Michael Gilbert were 'flawed', the Independent Police Complaints Commission has said.

Last year, three members of the Watt family were jailed for life for murder, and three others for familial homicide, with a judge branding their crime 'depraved'.

Today the IPCC said a Serious Case Review had looked at the consequences of actions by police and other agencies who had contact with Mr Gilbert.

The review paints a miserable picture of Mr Gilbert's childhood. He was in and out of foster care and children's homes with no one in charge of his well-being.

When he left the care system he went to live with the Watt family after meeting James Watt in a children's home when he was 15.

He endured appalling violence at their home including being stabbed, hit with a baseball bat, forced to stand in boiling water and shot at with an air pistol.

Evidence given during the criminal trial revealed he had locking pliers attached to his body to lead him around 'like a dog on a lead'.

Depraved: James Watt and Natasha Oldfield were jailed for life for murder

Richard Watt was sentenced to six years in prison and Jennifer Smith-Dennis was jailed for 10 years

Robert Watt was jailed for eight years; Nichola Roberts was jailed for life
When Mr Gilbert did manage to escape, the family would contact the Department for Work and Pensions and state his national insurance number to track where he was signing on to receive his benefits so they could track him down.

James Watt, 27, his girlfriend, Natasha Oldfield, 29, and his brother Richard's girlfriend, Nichola Roberts, 22, were jailed for life.

James's brother, Robert Watt, 20, and his mother, Jennifer Smith-Dennis, 58, were jailed for eight years and 10 years respectively for familial homicide.

A third brother, Richard Watt, 25, who previously pleaded guilty to familial homicide, was sentenced to six years in prison.

michael gilbert
The gentle giant: Michael Gilbert grew into a naive and vulnerable young man
Police were first alerted to Mr Gilbert after a violent assault in 2002. They were told by Mr Gilbert that he had been abducted by the Watt family in 2007 and again in 2008.

But in a serious of deadly blunders police took down the wrong phone number for Mr Gilbert and officers even said he could have been inventing his injuries.

Today, the IPCC said police had investigated each of the incidents, but all three inquiries were hindered.

The 2002 assault investigation was hampered after it was given inaccurate information from other public services; the Cambridgeshire abduction inquiry was not told Mr Gilbert confirmed to a Bedfordshire officer that he had been taken against his will, having previously denied it.

And in Lancashire, the wrong mobile phone number was written down for Mr Gilbert, the IPCC said.

The probe only comes after Mr Gilbert's mother contacted the body in July 2010, alleging police had failed to investigate three incidents involving her son.

Commissioner Rachel Cerfontyne said: 'This is a tragic case and one where the horrific manner of Michael's death must make it even harder for his loved ones to cope with their loss.

'We looked at specific allegations that the police did not investigate three incidents involving Michael and the Watt family.

'We have found that on each occasion investigations had taken place, but were flawed due to misinformation, failures in communication and human error.'

In January 2002 a member of Mr Gilbert's family called Bedfordshire Police to report he had been cut with a knife and shot with a pellet gun.

Officers pull a bag containing Michael Gilbert's body from the lagoon
A statement was taken and three members of the Watt family were named as the offenders, but despite efforts by police to investigate, their calls were not returned and Mr Gilbert did not turn up for a meeting.

There was no record of him going to hospital when he said he had and social services told detectives he had a history of making false allegations.

But the IPCC said it emerged Bedfordshire Police were passed 'inaccurate information in good faith' by social services and the hospital.

The false allegations were later found to relate to another Michael Gilbert and the subsequent murder investigation found that instead of making a note on records, the doctor who treated him sent a note to his GP outlining his attendance and treatment.

The IPCC found detectives understandably believed Mr Gilbert had invented the causes of his injuries, based on incorrect information from 'normally reliable sources'.

In June 2007 Mr Gilbert was with a friend in Cambridge when he was approached by James Watt - one of his killers - and got into a car with him.

Michael Gilbert's body parts were found in a prison bag which had been thrown into a lake
His concerned friend contacted police and efforts were made to trace him, then on July 3 Cambridgeshire Police received a request from Bedfordshire Police for his arrest on suspicion of rape.

Mr Gilbert was found with Watt in the Arundel Shopping Centre in Luton on July 11.

He was arrested and taken to a police station where he was interviewed on suspicion of rape.

A Cambridgeshire officer was told he had been arrested and no claims of abduction had been made, so the force closed its missing person and abduction inquiry.

But the IPCC said after the interview finished Mr Gilbert told the Bedfordshire detective he had been abducted but would not cooperate with any investigation.

He was released, but the allegation of abduction was never passed on to Cambridgeshire Police.

The watchdog said if Bedfordshire Police had informed Cambridgeshire of the abduction allegation, it should have resulted in a crime being recorded and the potential gathering of intelligence about the Watt family.

'But given his suggestion that he would not help any investigation, it is impossible to say what would have happened had the information been passed on,' a spokesman said.

In the third incident, in January 2008, Mr Gilbert was abducted from outside a job centre in Blackburn when he was with his girlfriend's brother.

His girlfriend's family later received several text messages from Mr Gilbert, as well as speaking to him.

Officers visited the girlfriend's house and took details of the incident and a contact number for Mr Gilbert.

But the wrong number was written down and when it was dialled the man who answered said he was not Michael and did not know him.

Officers closed the call thinking he was avoiding contact with the informant's family.

Luton Borough Council today welcomed the report's eight recommendations, which include using Mr Gilbert's circumstances in training; sharing the review with partner agencies; and promoting training in assessing mental capacity and decision-making.

Chief executive Trevor Holden said: 'While the report clearly states that professionals made the decisions expected of them in following legislative requirements at the time, the council and its partners are determined to learn the lessons from this Serious Case Review.

'We have an action plan in place for each recommendation which will help us improve services to the people of Luton and we hope will also help shape policy on a national level.

'As an adult Michael was not registered as vulnerable because, by law, he was deemed to have had sufficient mental capacity to make his own decisions.

'The support that was offered 20 years ago for Michael in Luton and other children across the country is very different to the services of today,' he said.