Disabled man’s ‘deceitful and adulterous’ wife and his male carer are convicted of slavery after they kept him in squalor ‘like a dog’ while they had affair
- Tom Somerset-How, 40, kept barely alive at his home in Chichester, West Sussex
A disabled man’s ‘deceitful and adulterous’ wife and his male carer were today convicted of slavery after they kept him in squalor ‘like a dog’ while they had an affair.
Tom Somerset-How who has cerebral palsy and is partially blind, was kept barely alive at his home in Chichester, West Sussex while his wife, Sarah, 49, and her Kray fan lover George Webb, 50, treated him ‘like a piece of property’.
His sister, Holby City actress Kate Somerset-Holmes, and mother, Helen Somerset-How – who was made an MBE for her charity work – told of their horror at bursting into the filthy house to find him ‘disorientated’ and ‘very, very thin’ at 6 stones 10lbs.
Prosecutors said Somerset-How and Webb treated the 40 year old – who needs 24-hour care – as a ‘cash cow’, spending his inheritance and buying themselves lingerie and DJ equipment.
The ‘intelligent’ history graduate, who was fed crisps and allowed one shower a week, was finally saved in a rescue operation by family, police and social services that was said to ‘have the marks of extracting someone as a hostage’.
Sarah Somerset-How, 49, and her lover George Webb, 50, kept Tom Somerset-How, 40, barely alive at his home in Chichester, West Sussex
Tom with his mother, Helen Somerset-How – who was made an MBE for setting up a charity for children with cerebral palsy – and sister, Holby City actress Kate Somerset-Holmes
Tom is now living in residential accommodation after being taken away from his abusers
After a four-week trial at Portsmouth Crown Court, jurors deliberated for a little more than 12 hours before finding Webb and Somerset-How guilty of holding a person in slavery or servitude.
Webb was also convicted of ill-treatment by a care worker while Somerset-How, an executive assistant who has worked for accountancy firm KPMG and lawyers Irwin Mitchell, has been convicted of aiding and abetting him from 2018 to 2020.
However, both were cleared of charges pertaining to alleged ill treatment before 2017.
Webb was found guilty of ABH after an incident where he hit Tom with a shoe.
Somerset-How was found not guilty of fraud and theft over allegations she had ‘plundered’ £12,000 of her husband’s inheritance.
Watching from the public gallery, Tom’s family cheered with each guilty verdict, while he was overcome with emotion. He was joined by his parents, his twin sister Kate, his older brother Ben and a family friend to support him.
There was no reaction from Somerset-How, wearing a leopard print dress, and Webb, who wore an Adidas tracksuit, as the verdicts were delivered – with both slumped in their chairs.
After the verdicts were delivered, Tom said: ‘I am very pleased with the verdict. Justice has been served.
‘I would like to thank my lawyers, witness care, CPS, and the police officers who have been particularly diligent in preparing all the evidence to bring this case to light.
‘I would also like to thank my family for their ongoing support through this very difficult period.’
An image from 2018 shows Tom in bed with a Manchester United shirt on, unshaven, with long hair, and without his glasses
Tom’s sister took a photo of his dusty bedside lamp and dirty living room table, which was littered with football mugs, a full ashtray and a grinder
According to prosecutors, the slavery case is the first of its kind, as the charge usually applies to victims who have been trafficked from abroad or forced to work for no pay.
In this case, prosecutors argued that by being cut off from his family and by using his financial resources, the neglect was so bad Tom was in effect being treated like a slave at his home in Chichester, West Sussex.
Rejecting the defence application to dismiss the slavery charge halfway through the trial, Judge William Ashworth concluded: ‘There is ample evidence that Tom was held as if he was a cattle or animal.’
Images from 2018 show Tom in bed with a Manchester United shirt on, unshaven, with long hair, and without his glasses. Another photo shows the 40-year-old’s hand hanging off his bed with long, uncut nails.
Mrs Somerset-Holmes, who has also appeared in Silent Witness, took a photo of his dusty bedside lamp and dirty living room table, which was littered with football mugs, a full ashtray and a grinder.
More photos were taken when he was rescued in 2020, with Tom lying in bed with no mattress on one side and clothes piled everywhere.
His mother, Helen Somerset-How – who was made an MBE for setting up a charity for children with cerebral palsy – took a photo of his unused wheelchair covered with clothes.
Mrs Somerset-Holmes told Portsmouth Crown Court how she ‘ambushed’ the couple in a bid to see her brother, he was unwashed and his living conditions were ‘disgusting’.
Another image shows a filthy sideboard, which is covered by a thick layer of dust
During the trial, prosecutor Paul Cavin KC said the couple took ‘total control over his life, just as you would with a dog’.
‘He was increasingly ostracised,’ he said. ‘He was not just neglected. He was not just abused. He was treated like a piece of property. They sought to isolate him from friends and family.
‘He was not allowed to call people without one of them being present. He was their cash cow.
‘Every aspect of his life was controlled. His remaining independence he had was taken away from him by the defendants.
‘He couldn’t dismiss his carer who was abusing him, and his wife wouldn’t intervene or help him because she was having an affair.
‘He became a prisoner in his own home. He was entirely dependent on his abusers to stay alive.’
In texts read out to the court, Webb texted: ‘Get rid of him. Go find yourself a man. I think you need to leave Tom and get your life back.’
And Mrs Somerset-How messaged Webb about taking money from her husband’s account, remarking: ‘Remember, we are just using him.’
The court heard how Tom met his wife in 2008 through one of her work friends while he was living in sheltered accommodation and recovering from surgery.
They moved into a purpose-built bungalow in Chichester, West Sussex in 2010 and were given 24-hour care paid for by social services during the week.
Webb then arrived as his carer in 2016, with all three of them living in the house, before this became a private care service at the rate of £4,000 a month.
The pair left Tom in bed for 90 per cent of the time and went for a whole year without brushing his teeth.
He would be left with only a packet of crisps and a sandwich, while the pair carried out their plan to ‘ostracise’ him from his family.
Tom was found ‘disorientated’ and ‘very, very thin’ at 6 stones 10lbs. These images were shown to the jury
One photo shows the 40-year-old’s hand hanging off his bed with long, uncut nails
Mrs Somerset-Holmes, a theatre star who also played Miss Hannigan in the West End production of Annie, told jurors she found her brother ‘disorientated and very, very thin’.
‘The bedroom was disgusting,’ she said. ‘It was dim, and the curtains were drawn. Tom was in bed and appeared confused and disorientated. He wasn’t wearing his glasses.
‘There were clothes and boxes everywhere. There were piles of clothes on Sarah’s side of the bed, and his wheelchair was folded up with things on top of it.
‘I went straight to Tom’s bedside, and I raised him. He smelt terrible, like he hadn’t washed in weeks. I asked him if he had an accident in bed because the smell of urine was so strong. I asked him when he last washed, and he didn’t know.
‘Tom was very, very thin. His nails were long, and his hair was greasy. He hadn’t been shaved in weeks. I asked if he was okay, but he obviously wasn’t. In hindsight that was a silly question.
‘I asked Tom if it was okay to take photos, and I did. My parents needed to know the condition he was being kept in. The dust on the bedside lamp was so thick it looked like snow. It was disgusting.’
Mrs Somerset-Holmes said that in the run up to her visit, she knocked at the home twice a day for five days, but no one ever came to the door and the curtains would be shut ‘all day’.
Eventually, she parked down the road and walked to the door, which is when Mrs Somerset-How finally answered. But the actress said the woman only opened the door a ‘crack’ and she wasn’t let in.
A mock up of texts Somerset-How and Webb sent each other. These were read out in court
The actress told jurors: ‘I repeatedly knocked on the door, but it went unanswered. I tried to see in the house, but the curtains were closed.
‘This would be all day, mornings and afternoons. I never saw the blinds open. They knew I was coming to the house, and I would be around all week. I was calling, no reply.
‘I called in advance. I texted Tom a lot, and no reply. On my last day, I decided I would ambush them because I suspected I was being ignored, and I was concerned. I parked down the road and walked to the house, and Sarah opened the door.
‘She opened the door just a crack so I could see her face. This was about 3 pm. I noticed a lot of cigarette smoke, and I was surprised because Tom doesn’t smoke, and I was annoyed they were smoking because I didn’t think it was good for Tom.
‘I asked about it and if I could see Tom. Sarah said he was in bed. I expressed my concern that Tom was in bed in the middle of the day, and this was a pattern. He was always in bed.’
In December 2018, Mrs Somerset-Holmes said she finally got to see her brother, who hadn’t been seen by his family for two years.
Webb showing off his tattoo of the Kray twins, which is on the left side of his neck
She told the court: ‘I was home for a year before going away again, and I visited my parents. I delivered Christmas presents early because I was going away for three months doing shows, and I wasn’t going to see Tom for a long time.
‘I parked down the road and knocked on the door, and George opened it. This was the first time I had ever seen him. I explained I was Tom’s twin sister and I was going away for a few months. My husband and I had driven down together.
‘George was reluctant. I tried very hard to be persuasive and very polite, and he let me in. I was very surprised.
‘My first impression of the house was that it was squalid. Bowls were piled everywhere. It smelled very strongly of cigarette smoke and marijuana. The house was dim, and the curtains were shut.
‘I assumed correctly that Tom would be in bed, so I went there. George went to the lounge to make a phone call.
‘George was on the phone to Sarah, saying there were people in the house, saying ‘you need to get home now’. It didn’t feel safe. The only thing I could do was leave and leave Tom there.
‘I spoke to George, and I was very polite to him. I was worried he would hurt Tom if I told him how disgusting it was. I was worried for Tom’s safety.’
Tom’s mother, Helen Somerset-How, leaving Portsmouth Crown Court during the trial
West End, Silent Witness and Holby City actress Kate Somerset-Holmes told the court how she was forced to ‘ambush’ the couple at the house to gain access to her twin brother
Under the prosecution’s cross-examination of Mrs Somerset-How, Paul Cavin KC asked her about the photos Mrs Somerset-Holmes took of the house.
She said: ‘There was some dust and some washing which hadn’t been put away that day.
‘I would cut Tom’s nails. His nails grew very quickly and it was difficult to cut them because he had spasms.
‘I would try after every shower, Tom would as well. We tried with a nail file. There was always an attempt to cut his nails but Tom would say ‘don’t worry, leave them, we will try again later’.’
Giving evidence, Tom told the court Webb was a ‘really good carer’ at first and there were ‘absolutely no issues’, but within a year things quickly declined.
Over time, small changes meant he felt it ‘became harder to request help’ for things like going to the toilet.
He said: ‘When I asked for help, he would do it really quickly, like it was a chore.’
When asked by prosecutor Paul Cavin KC why he didn’t complain to Webb’s agency, he said ‘afterwards I would be barraged by abuse’.
He continued: ‘I would go entire weeks without getting out of bed, except for when I desperately needed the toilet. At one point, I went for five weeks in bed.
‘I would have to text Sarah when she was at work to ask if she could help me to the toilet when she got home. I would have a urine bottle which wouldn’t be emptied until Sarah got home.
Tom Somerset-How outside Portsmouth Crown Court, where he gave evidence during the trial
‘There were multiple times when I just couldn’t hold it. There were days when I had to stay there in it until Sarah came home to sort me out.
‘I told Sarah this wasn’t acceptable, but she would just shrug. Sarah said George had the two of us over a barrel. She didn’t elaborate.
‘They would shut the curtains to stop people from seeing in. They would be shut all day. I felt like it was no longer my house.’
He also told how he suspected Webb and his wife were having an affair after he heard ‘sounds’ and texted Mrs Somerset-How to ask ‘what was going on’.
But Tom received a reply from Webb telling him to ‘go back to sleep’ and they were ‘just discussing’ his care.
He also said the pair would ‘go away together on weekends’ and leave him with only a ‘bottle of squash’ for up to 12 hours.
Tom told the jury about the moment he stopped receiving visitors at home.
Giving evidence, Tom told the court Webb was a ‘really good carer’ at first and there were ‘absolutely no issues’, but within a year things quickly declined
He said: ‘At one point, my mum came round to drop off a duvet in an unexpected visit.
‘Webb lost it completely. He was screaming at her. From what I heard, it sounded like he was in her face, screaming at her for five minutes.
‘After she left, he came straight in and said, ‘no one is ever coming over again. Not even for a cup of tea’.’
During this time, Tom said Webb threw a shoe at him in anger.
He told the jury: ‘George got really angry. I didn’t see what he threw because I shut my eyes, but it felt like a shoe.
‘Sarah was there in the room and just got me a cold, wet tea towel to hold against my face. I still have a small indentation where it hit me.’
On another occasion, he said Webb dragged him into the shower and sprayed water on him until he was ‘gasping’.
Somerset-How and Webb will be sentenced later this year.
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