scorecardDisabled man's cheating wife and his carer convicted after locking him in a squalid room for years
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Disabled man's cheating wife and his carer convicted after locking him in a squalid room for years

Bethany Dawson   

Disabled man's cheating wife and his carer convicted after locking him in a squalid room for years
PolicyPolicy2 min read
  • The wife of a disabled man and her lover were convicted of slavery and willful neglect.
  • Tom Somerset-How, 40, who was bed-bound, was trapped in one room in squalid conditions.

The wife of a disabled man in England was convicted of slavery and willful neglect after abusing her husband for years.

Tom Somerset-How, 40, was rescued in 2020 from a house in the town of Chichester, police said.

Officers said Somerset-How needed constant care but was confined to one room by his wife, Sarah, and carer, George Webb, with whom she'd been having an affair.

Sussex Police said in a statement that Somerset-How — a wheelchair user who is partially blind and has cerebral palsy — was made to "live in squalid conditions" without sufficient food and drink for four years.

"Sarah Somerset-How, 49, conspired with her husband's carer, 40-year-old George Webb, to leave their victim bedbound and malnourished while they took advantage of him for their own gains," said the police statement.

The case was notable as the first of its kind to be prosecuted under Britain's relatively new anti-slavery laws, which are mostly used in cases of trafficked people exploited for their labor.

It offered a new approach to an enduring issue. Those with a long-term illness or disability were more than twice as likely to be victims of domestic abuse than the general public, said Britain's Office for National Statistics in a 2015 crime-data analysis, the latest available.

ITV News spoke to Somerset-How, who said his bedroom constantly had the blinds drawn, and he only knew what date it was from his iPad.

"I wanted to go to sleep and not wake up, just so it would finish," he told the news channel, adding, "Because, at the time, I just didn't see a way out."

When police found him, Somerset-How weighed 98 pounds and hadn't had his teeth cleaned for a year, per ITV News.

A landmark legal case

Somerset-How and Webb were found guilty of wilful neglect and holding a person in slavery or servitude at Portsmouth Crown Court on May 12, said Sussex Police.

In a legal first, prosecutors argued that keeping Somerset-How confined to his room, cutting him off from his family, and taking his money amounted to a form of modern slavery, reported The Telegraph.

The couple had "total ownership" of the disabled man "in a way that a master does over a dog when he puts him in the kitchen," prosecutor Paul Cavin told the jurors, per The Telegraph.

Somerset-How was not fully aware of the extent of the relationship between his wife and carer until text messages were shown in court.

"Get rid of him; go find yourself a man. I think you need to leave Tom and get your life back," wrote Webb in a text message to his lover.

Sarah Somerset-How wrote to Webb: "Remember, we are just using him. He gets paid soon, so I will take money out of his account for weed."

Somerset-How was isolated from his family, according to his mother, who said his abusers tried to keep their actions a secret.

Helen Somerset-How told ITV News her daughter-in-law and her son's carer would "smarten him up, give him a shower, and a haircut" to make him appear fine when he spoke to his family. They believe he was too afraid to say anything about his tortured existence because he was a victim of coercive control.

Somerset-How told ITV News he plans to campaign for legislative change to get more rigorous spot checks on carers regulated by local authorities. He said he would take his message to the British parliament next month.