Mum of murdered Joe Pooley describes son's killers as 'bullies'

Photo of Joe Pooley in dark tee shirt

Joe Pooley, from Ipswich, who was found in the River Gipping - Credit: Suffolk Constabulary

The mother of murdered Ipswich man Joe Pooley, whose body was found in the River Gipping, has described her son's killers as “bullies”.

In a moving victim statement read to Ipswich Crown Court today Joe’s mother Samantha Nicholls described 22-year-old Joe, who was autistic and had learning difficulties, as vulnerable and desperate for friends.

Addressing his killers directly across the courtroom she accused them of being “bullies” and said they had robbed her of a future with her son and replaced it with a “funeral and an urn containing his ashes".

She criticised the lack of suitable supported accommodation for Joe and said that over a period of four years he had 36 moves.  

Sean Palmer, Sebastian Smith and Becki West-Davidson

Sean Palmer, Sebastian Smith and Becki West-Davidson, who were convicted of murdering Ipswich man Joe Pooley - Credit: Suffolk Police

She described pleading with the local authority for help to make her son safe and warning them that it was only a matter of time before he ended up "in prison or dead.”

She said that if he had been living in accommodation intended for people with autism and had received the support and  care he required instead of living unsupported in bed and breakfast accommodation for homeless people he would still be alive.

Sebastian Smith, 35, of no fixed address, Sean Palmer, 30, of South Market Road, Great Yarmouth and Becki West-Davidson, 30, of Rope Walk, Ipswich, were all convicted of murder by majority verdicts by a jury at Ipswich Crown Court in March after a four month trial. They had all denied the charge.

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A fourth defendant, Lisa-Marie Smith, 26, of Hawick, Roxburghshire, was unanimously cleared of murder and an alternative charge of manslaughter.

Sebastian Smith refused to leave prison to attend the sentencing hearing today and will be sentenced in his absence.

Judge Martyn Levett will sentence him, Palmer and West-Davidson later this afternoon after hearing mitigation from their barristers.

Joe Pooley's body was discovered in the River Gipping near London Road, Ipswich, on August 13, 2018

Joe Pooley's body was discovered in the River Gipping near London Road, Ipswich, on August 13, 2018. - Credit: Archant

Mr Pooley's body was found in the River Gipping by a dog walker at about 10.30am on August 13, 2018.

A post-mortem examination found the likely cause of death was immersion in water.

The defendants were accused of ganging up and murdering the 22-year-old on or before August 7.

During the trial the court heard Mr Pooley, who was living at the Kingsley House Hotel in London Road, Ipswich, had been under the wing of adult social care and was considered to be “vulnerable, trusting of others and easily taken advantage of”.

Christopher Paxton QC, prosecuting, said West-Davidson’s anger with Mr Pooley, over comments he was said to have made about her and Lisa-Marie Smith, “stoked up hostility towards him”.

Mr Paxton said West-Davidson, who had had a sexual relationship with Mr Pooley, had encouraged Sebastian Smith and Palmer to attack him and cause his body to end up in the river.

Mr Paxton said it was agreed by West-Davidson that she and Mr Pooley had sex at her Roper Court flat, in Foxhall Road, on the night of August 5.

He said subsequent declarations of love and affection – in the form of text messages – showed an intensity of feeling that “stoked her anger and hostility”.

He said a voicemail message from Sebastian Smith to West-Davidson showed his anger over things Mr Pooley was supposed to have said about him and Lisa-Marie Smith.

He told jurors that a subsequent message from Sebastian Smith to Mr Pooley read: “I’m going everywhere until I find you”.

Mr Paxton said the “ebb and flow” of contacts showed that Sebastian Smith and West-Davidson “bullied, threatened and ganged up on” Mr Pooley, believing him to be the source of “rumours, slurs and name calling”.

Sebastian Smith, the only defendant to give evidence in the case, denied telling a friend that he and Palmer had “put Joe in the river".

He claimed that he punched Mr Pooley twice before he and Palmer ran off and left him on the ground.

Asked why he left Ipswich for Scotland shortly after the alleged murder, Smith said he "needed to get away for a while".

Mr Paxton claimed West-Davidson “tried to cover up” the alleged murder by deleting a number of Facebook messages, including one in which Mr Pooley asked her to “call off the hit” and another telling Mr Pooley “you’re f****d, mate”.

Simon Spence QC, representing Sean Palmer, suggested to the jury that Mr Pooley could have fallen into the river, swam for a short time and then drowned.

Barrister Stephen Rose, representing West-Davidson, argued that there was "no plan" between his client and Sebastian Smith.