Eleven members of a West Norfolk family who abducted an viciously attacked a man and his his heavily pregnant partner were jailed for a total of 60 years today.
The victims,who cannot be named for legal reasons, were separately held against their will and subject to sustained beatings by the group – putting the woman in fear of losing her baby.
Spanning three generations, those involved in the offences were all related to Gertrude Frankham who died at her home in Walpole St Andrew, aged 75, in December 2012.
Becoming convinced in the months that followed that she had in fact been killed, the attacks were launched by the family in a bid to force a confession from the people they thought were involved.
A comprehensive police investigation by detectives from the joint Norfolk and Suffolk Major Investigation Team subsequently proved the allegations were unfounded.
Today, five men and six women aged between 17 and 57, were sentenced at Norwich Crown Court to sentences ranging from 12 years to 18 months.
Judge Stephen Holt, commended the officers in the investigation saying, “the preparation of the case was of the highest level” and those who attended on 20 April 2014 showed “diplomacy and great tact in diffusing a difficult situation”,
Judge Holt, told them: “It’s clear the whole operation was pre-planned” and the victims were: “subject to a prolonged attack.” He added that it was apparent that: “the family thought they were above the law and could impose their own.”
Speaking after the hearing, King’s Lynn and West Norfolk policing commander, Supt Dennis Lacey, said: “The assaults were carried out over a period of hours while others looked on. Camcorder footage seized by police of one of these attacks is truly horrific and it is hard to believe the victims will ever fully recover from their ordeal.
“The events placed a significant demand on police resources, leading to parallel enquiries into the murder allegation and the incidents of kidnap and assault.
“Vigilantism cannot be tolerated and the sentences handed down reflect the unnecessary level of violence used despite the most serious allegation of murder being unfounded.”
Police received a series of calls on the afternoon of April 20, 2013 asking for urgent police attendance in Walpole St Andrew where the family were holding a woman believed to be involved the previously unreported murder of Gertrude Frankham.
The incident led to parallel police investigations: a murder investigation led by the joint Norfolk and Suffolk Major Investigation Team (MIT), which was prioritised, and a CID-led investigation into the couple’s kidnap and assault.
As part of the murder investigation, the MIT arranged for the exhumation of Mrs Frankham’s body from Wisbech cemetery to allow for a Home Office post mortem and this was carried out on 29 May 2013. The post-mortem examination showed no evidence of third-party involvement and concluded Mrs Frankham had died from natural causes and the family were duly informed.
Unhappy with the conclusion, they were given the opportunity to hold an independent post-mortem examination and this took place on June 28, 2013. The findings of this were consistent with the Home Office post-mortem examination, finding no evidence of third party involvement. Members of Gertrude’s family were told that there would be no further investigation into her death and her body was reinterred on July 11, 2013.
Det Insp Gary Bloomfield said: “Ten detectives and numerous support staff were involved in, what was, a thorough and extensive investigation aimed at establishing the cause of Mrs Frankham’s death. Neither the police enquiry, the Home Office post-mortem examination nor the independent post-mortem examination found any evidence to support to allegations of foul play.”
Lynn CID led the eight-month long investigation into the kidnap, false imprisonment and assault of the couple in April. Suspects were arrested across the west of the county in a series of dawn raids in July.
The following defendants were today sentenced for their part in the attacks having either previously pleaded or been found guilty at earlier hearings:
Violet Chilton, 57, of Rands Terrace, Dades Lane, St John’s Fen End, was found guilty of false imprisonment and assault occasioning grievous bodily harm and sentenced to six years in prison.
Thomas Chilton, 29, Rands Terrace, Dades Lane, St John’s Fen End, was found guilty of two counts of kidnap and two counts of false imprisonment and sentenced to six years.
Edward Dolan Jnr, 18, of New Road, Sutton Bridge, was found guilty of kidnap and false imprisonment and sentenced to 18 months in youth custody.
Vanessa Frankham, 48, of Wisbech Road, Walpole St Andrew, was found guilty of kidnap, blackmail and assault occasioning grievous bodily harm. She had previously admitted false imprisonment and sentenced to seven years.
Diane Evans, 18, of Cherry Road, Wisbech, was found guilty of false imprisonment and sentenced to 18 months.
Jesse Frankham, 17, of Wisbech Road, Walpole St Andrew, was found guilty of kidnap and false imprisonment and sentenced to an 18 months detention and training order.
Several members of the group had previously pleaded guilty and therefore did not stand trial. These included:
Laura Ann Dolan, 37, of Two Sisters Close, Sutton Bridge, pleaded guilty to kidnap, two counts of false imprisonment and two counts of unlawful wounding. She was sentenced to eight years.
Wayne Dolan, 35, of Walpole Marsh, Walpole St Andrew, pleaded guilty to false imprisonment and unlawful wounding. He was sentenced to five years.
Edward Dolan Snr, 38, of Walpole Marsh, Walpole St Andrew, pleaded guilty to kidnap, two counts of false imprisonment and wounding with intent. He was sentenced to 12 years.
Sheila Conboy, 55, of Walpole Marsh, Walpole St Andrew, pleaded guilty to two counts of false imprisonment and two counts of unlawful wounding. She was sentenced to eight years.
Valerie Harris, 47, of Thistlebrook, south London, pleaded guilty to false imprisonment and unlawful wounding. She was sentenced to three-and-a-half years in custody.