Wife and carer of disabled husband found guilty of enslaving him in 'first ever case of its kind'

Tom Somerset-How.

A 'deceitful and adulterous' wife and the carer of her disabled husband were today convicted of enslaving him in the first ever case of its kind.

Sarah Somerset-How and lover George Webb imprisoned her spouse Tom, barely keeping him alive while treating him 'like a piece of property'.

Prosecutors said Mrs Somerset-How and Mr Webb treated the 40 year old - who suffers from cerebral palsy and needs 24-hour care - as a 'cash cow', spending his inheritance and buying themselves lingerie and DJ equipment.

Mr Somerset-How, an intelligent history graduate from a wealthy family, was kept in bed for 90% of the time, only allowed to shower once a week, and was only left with crisps and a sandwich for food, it was heard.

Sarah Somerset-How.

After a four-week trial at Portsmouth Crown Court jurors deliberated for a little more than 12 hours before finding Webb, 50, and Mrs Somerset-How, 49, guilty of holding a person in slavery or servitude.

Webb was also convicted of ill-treatment by a care worker while Mrs 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 2018.

Webb was found guilty of ABH against Mr Somerset-How after an incident where he hit him with a shoe.

George Webb.

Mrs Somerset-How was found not guilty of fraud and theft over allegations she had 'plundered' £12,000 of her husband's inheritance.

According to prosecutors, the Somerset-How 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 Mr Somerset-How 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."

The judge concluded that Tom was held as if he was a cattle or animal.

The court heard Mr Somerset-How met his wife in 2008 through Gina Zeelie, a friend who worked with Mrs Somerset-How. At this time, he was living in sheltered accommodation and recovering from surgery.

In 2010, they moved into a purpose-built bungalow in Chichester, West Sussex, and had 24-hour care paid for by social services during the week, with his wife providing weekend cover.

Webb, working for healthcare agency NursePlus, arrived in 2016 to help care for him, with the three of them living in the same house.

This then transitioned into private care, paid for by Mr Somerset-How at a rate of £4,000 a month. Over the next four months, the ill-treatment worsened.

The court heard his weight had plummeted to 6 stones 10lbs, and he was found unwashed in 'disgusting' living conditions.

Mrs Somerset-How admitted to the court she became 'intimate' with Webb in 2016 but it only lasted for six months, and started up again briefly in 2019.

Webb admitted the affair but said the married couple told him together their 'relationship was over' and had been since 2013 - only a year after they married.

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.

The pair are due to be sentenced later this year.

"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."

Portsmouth Crown Court. Credit: Chris Ison / Pa Images

Former colleagues of Mrs Somerset-How from Oxfordshire-based non-profit agricultural company CABI told the court she went with Webb to watch Manchester United football games and Take That concerts - and left her husband behind.

The jury heard Mrs Somerset-How had also bought a Michael Kors handbag using her husband's money.

Giving evidence, Mr Somerset-How told the court: "They would go away together on weekends, and I would be left alone with a bottle of squash for up to 12 hours.

"I would have a urine bottle which wouldn't be emptied until Sarah got home.

The couple insisted that Mr Somerset-How had been well cared for.

"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."

Mr Somerset-How's actress twin sister, Kate Somerset-Holmes, told the court she had to 'ambush' the carer to gain access to her brother, who she found in 'squalid' conditions.

Mrs Somerset-Holmes, who played Miss Hannigan in the West End production of Annie and has appeared in Silent Witness and Holby City, told jurors her brother was 'disorientated and very, very thin'.

The court heard his weight had plummeted to 6 stones 10lbs, and he was found unwashed in 'disgusting' living conditions.

Giving evidence, she said: "Tom smelt terrible, like he hadn't been washed in weeks.

"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. It was disgusting."

Mr Somerset-How's mother Helen, who was awarded an MBE for charity work, told the court she visited her son and was also horrified to find him living in 'squalor'.

Describing her son after he was 'rescued' from his home, she said: "He had a beard. His nails were dreadful. His teeth were unclean, they had stuff all over them, and he smelt terrible."

The couple insisted that Mr Somerset-How had been well cared for.

But in his closing speech, Mr Cavin said: "They took total control over his life, just as you would with a dog.

"You might give [a dog] a bit of food or water, but it has no choice.

"The ability to see people was taken away from him. The blinds were kept down, he couldn't even see people passing the window.

"Tom continued to provide a home for his adulterous and deceitful wife."

The jury was told that eventually, Mr Somerset-How managed to raise the alarm about how he was being treated with a friend who alerted his parents.

They then staged a rescue with police and social services, 'an operation that had the marks of extracting someone as a hostage', the court heard.

Admitting he had an affair with his client's wife, Webb told the court: "I know it wasn't appropriate. We all make mistakes. It is one of my biggest mistakes ever."

Mrs Somerset-How also admitted the affair and said Webb was her 'rock' and they had grown 'closer than we should have'.

But she denied a long-running relationship, saying the affair that began shortly after they first met fizzled out before rekindling briefly three years later.

When asked about text messages between her and Webb about her underwear, she told the court: 'Just because I had a thong it doesn't mean I was having sex'.

Watching from the public gallery, Tom Somerset-How's family cheered with each guilty verdict, with Mr Somerset-How overcome by emotion as the jury's decision came in.

Mr Somerset-How was joined by his parents, John and Helen, his twin sister Kate, his older brother Ben and a family friend to support him.

There was no reaction from Sarah Somerset-How, wearing a leopard print dress, and George Webb, who wore an Adidas tracksuit, as the verdicts were delivered - with both slumped in their chairs.

The pair are due to be sentenced later this year.

After the verdicts were delivered, Tom Somerset-How 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."

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