Cupboard killer convicted

PUBLISHED: 07:07 20 December 2001 | UPDATED: 11:04 03 March 2010

THE body in the cupboard trial has come to a dramatic end with the mastermind behind the brutal killing convicted of murder and his two co-defendants cleared of all charges.

THE body in the cupboard trial has come to a dramatic end with the mastermind behind the brutal killing convicted of murder and his two co-defendants cleared of all charges.

There were scenes of hysteria at Chelmsford Crown Court late yesterday as the verdicts were delivered after more than eight hours deliberation.

Michaela Wrenn, her former partner Stephen Sullivan and their co-defendant Lee Smith were all accused of murder, manslaughter and false imprisonment concerning the death of Justin Chant.

Unanimous verdicts were reached on all three charges for each defendant – Sullivan guilty on all counts, with Miss Wrenn and Mr Smith completely cleared.

As the word "guilty" was read for the charge of murder against Sullivan, the court erupted as his ex-girlfriends, sisters, ex-wife, and family and friends of the other defendants cheered, shouted and wept.

He was also convicted of false imprisonment. He will be sentenced this morning.

Sullivan, 40, of Byng Close, Thorpe-le-Soken, was quickly escorted from the dock by security officers.

As the foreman returned verdicts of not guilty to all three counts for Miss Wrenn, she broke down and sobbed.

The Judge, Mr Justice Aikens formally discharged Miss Wrenn, of Byng Close, Thorpe-le-Soken, and she left the court.

A short time later, Lee Smith gripped the edge of the dock and looked stunned as he too was cleared of all charges.

His mother sobbed uncontrollably, saying "thank you, thank you", and had to be helped from the court by relatives.

Mr Smith, of Seymour Road, Clacton, was also formally discharged by the judge and left the dock to be embraced by family and friends.

Mr Chant's emaciated body was found in a cupboard in the flat they all shared in Byng Close, Thorpe-le-Soken, in November last year.

The prosecution alleged the trio forced Mr Chant, 24, to live in a cupboard and did not allow him food or water.

All three denied the charges and Miss Wrenn and Mr Smith said Sullivan was responsible for Mr Chant's death.

Judge Aikens told the jury it had been "an extremely long and difficult case" and because of the nature and length of it he excused them from sitting on a jury again.

Judge Aikens also paid tribute to Mr Chant's family who had sat through the entire six-week case.

He told them: "I admire your courage. I hope that the verdicts that have been given will give you some peace of mind, and if it doesn't, I can only wish you well anyway."

Outside court, there were emotional scenes as the verdicts sunk in. Sullivan's sisters and ex-partners – many of whom had given evidence during the trial of his violence and bullying – sobbed uncontrollably in relief.

A statement released from the family of Miss Wrenn said: "I think it was the right decision. If you sat in the court and heard all the evidence you would realise that the jury came back with the proper outcome.

"Sullivan is evil and he deserves locking up for the rest of his life.

"At the moment there are a lot of happy people out there and we can't describe how relieved we feel about Michaela being freed."

Justin Chant's aunt Barbara Gooch said: "Being at the trial has been the most horrendous experience of our lives but we did it with dignity as that is the kind of family we are.

"Justin came from a good family. He was very loved and he was a good boy."

She said the family would try to rebuild their lives "gradually".

Det Insp Len Jarman, of the Essex major investigation section, said: "This was a bizarre case involving domination and bullying.

"Sullivan is an evil man and a control freak who was the driving force behind this crime. Justin Chant was an intelligent but vulnerable young man who did not deserve to be treated so callously.

"The case required a lengthy investigation by officers from Essex Police's major investigation section and I am pleased with the outcome."

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