Three people jailed for life for the murder of Ipswich man Joe Pooley

Sean Palmer, Sebastian Smith and Becki West-Davidson

Sean Palmer, Sebastian Smith and Becki West-Davidson, who were jailed for life for murdering vulnerable Ipswich man, Joe Pooley. - Credit: Suffolk Police

Two men and a woman have been jailed for life for the murder of vulnerable Ipswich man Joe Pooley whose body was found in the River Gipping.

Sentencing Sebastian Smith, Sean Palmer and Becki West-Davidson at Ipswich Crown Court today (Monday, May 24) Judge Martyn Levett said the killing was motivated by sexual jealousy after Smith found out that Mr Pooley had slept with West-Davidson.

He said he was satisfied that after plying Mr Pooley with alcohol Smith and Palmer had accompanied him along the River Gipping towpath and after immersing him in the water Palmer had held his head down and drowned him.

“You sought revenge on him to teach him a lesson and to punish him for what he’d done,” said the judge.

He said he was satisfied that a week before the killing Smith had taken Mr Pooley to a forest and told him to dig his own grave.

Photo of Joe Pooley in dark tee shirt

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

After hearing that Mr Pooley, who was vulnerable and had learning difficulties, had no adult care or supervision and there was no overview of the people he was mixing with, he suggested that was “perhaps a lesson to be learned”.

Smith, 35, of no fixed address, Palmer, 30, of South Market Road, Great Yarmouth and 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.

Jailing Sebastian Smith, Palmer and West-Davidson for life Judge Levett directed that Smith should serve a minimum term of 21 years before he can be considered eligible for parole, Palmer for 18 years and West-Davidson for 17 years.

Sebastian Smith refused to leave prison to come to court and was sentenced in his absence.

In a letter read to the court he described the trial process as being biased and said he didn’t see the point of coming to court.

A policeman guarding the scene in August Picture: RACHEL EDGE

A policeman guarding the scene in August Picture: RACHEL EDGE - Credit: Archant

Palmer left court during the sentencing and was also sentenced in his absence. 

Earlier, in a moving victim statement read to the court, Mr Pooley's mother Samantha Nicholls described her 22-year-old son, 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.  

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.

She accused Smith of being a “lying bully” and attacked him for lying to her when she was desperately looking for Mr Pooley in the days after his disappearance.

She told Palmer he was a “violent bully” and added: “You had choices that night and you made the wrong ones. You will have to live with the knowledge of what happened.”

Ms Nicholls said she would never forgive West-Davidson for going to Joe’s memorial service.

“I put my arms round you and consoled you when you are the reason he is no longer here," she said. 

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.

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 Picture: RACHEL EDGE - Credit: Archant

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”.

He 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 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, for Sean Palmer, said his client had left court before being sentenced because he had a medical appointment he was anxious not to miss.

He said drink and drugs had been a continuous feature of Palmer’s life prior to the killing.

Stephen Rose, for West-Davison, said his client hadn’t played any active role in the killing.

He asked the court to accept that even if there had been a plan to cause Mr Pooley really serious harm the actions of others in her absence went beyond what she could have reasonably contemplated.

“Someone who is two miles away is not in a position to intervene, is not in a position to discourage and is not in a position to jump in the water or dial 999,” said Mr Rose.

Allison Summers QC for Sebastian Smith, who has spent 571 days in custody, asked the court to accept there hadn’t been a significant amount of pre-planning and the “murderous intent” had arisen on the evening of the killing.