Joanna Dennehy: Men found guilty of all charges in serial killings case

Gary Stretch (left) and Leslie Layton (right). Picture: Cambridgeshire Police Gary Stretch (left) and Leslie Layton (right). Picture: Cambridgeshire Police

Wednesday, February 12, 2014
3:31 PM

Two men in the “thrall” of “sadistic” serial killer Joanna Dennehy have been convicted of offences related to her killing spree.

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Leslie Layton

Leslie Layton was a petty criminal who claimed he helped serial killer Joanna Dennehy because he was scared.

The 36-year-old lived in a bedsit owned by her third victim Kevin Lee and which he shared with Dennehy and John Chapman, the second man to be killed.

Since his first conviction for burglary at the age of 18, Layton was no stranger to the courts.

Cambridge Crown Court heard he had a criminal record including further burglaries, criminal damage, driving offences and theft from a car, spanning nearly two decades.

Throughout the trial he sat quietly in the dock, showing little emotion alongside his more animated co-defendant Gary Stretch, who repeatedly expressed his frustration at the complicated legal jargon used by counsel.

Like his co-defendant, Layton chose not to give evidence during the trial.

Unlike Stretch, he did give an account of his involvement in a police interview.

He said that he had been coming out of the bathroom when he bumped into Dennehy who told him she had stabbed their housemate, Mr Chapman.

Describing the sight of the body, he told officers he thought he would be next and feared for his life.

Prosecutor Peter Wright QC said Layton had been a willing participant in the disposal of two bodies and the attempt to cover up Dennehy’s crimes.

Jurors were shown a photograph of Mr Chapman’s body which was recovered from Layton’s mobile phone.

Gary Stretch and Leslie Layton were “manipulated” by psychopath Dennehy who murdered Lukasz Slaboszewski, 31, Kevin Lee, 48, and John Chapman, 56, in and around Peterborough over a 10-day period.

Stretch, 47, was found guilty at Cambridge Crown Court of the attempted murder of dog walker Robin Bereza, while Layton, 36, was convicted of preventing the lawful burial of two murder victims.

Prosecutors said the men, who had already been found guilty of other offences relating to Dennehy’s attacks in March last year, “revelled in bringing suffering and misery upon their victims and showed no remorse for their atrocious acts”.

Dennehy, 31, had previously pleaded guilty to the killings as well as admitting the attempted murders of two dog walkers, John Rogers and Mr Bereza, and preventing the lawful and decent burial of her murder victims.

Gary Stretch

Until he was charged over his involvement in Joanna Dennehy’s killing spree, Gary Stretch was known as a bungling criminal.

Standing at 7ft 3ins, Stretch - who changed his surname from Richards by deed poll in recognition of his stature - would tell friends his height meant he was “not a very good burglar”, Cambridge Crown Court heard.

In 2003, he was jailed for two years at Peterborough Crown Court after pleading guilty to burgling a house. He was caught after neighbours recognised his huge frame and called police.

Stephen Ferguson, mitigating, said it had been an amateurish effort, the Peterborough Telegraph reported.

“Mr Stretch is extremely distinctive and the flat he burgled was almost next door to where he was living,” he added.

While serving another jail term in 2009, he was accused of playing a part in killing another inmate at HMP Peterborough.

Brian Haynes, 33, died of a heart attack in his cell the previous year following a beating.

Prosecutor John Farmer told Norwich Crown Court Stretch acted as the look-out while others carried out the attack.

He added: “He is the biggest man in the dock. If you have got Mr Stretch as a sentry, he could warn you of a prison officer coming and prevent anyone thinking about interfering.”

Two men were convicted of manslaughter but Stretch was cleared.

Cambridgeshire Police launched a nationwide manhunt to find Stretch and Dennehy after the discovery of Kevin Lee’s body in Cambridgeshire in March last year.

Two further bodies - those of Lukasz Slaboszewski and John Chapman - were later found in Thorney Dyke, near where Stretch had briefly lived in 2005.

The 47-year-old, who has three children with former wife Julie Gibbons, gave a no comment interview when arrested by police and chose not to give evidence during his trial.

Prosecutors told the court he helped dispose of all three bodies before assisting Dennehy in randomly selecting two men to attack in the street in Hereford and acting as her driver.

All three will be sentenced at a later date along with a third man, Robert Moore, 55, of Belvoir Way, Peterborough, who previously admitted assisting an offender.

After the hearing, Detective Chief Inspector Martin Brunning, who led the investigation, said: “Three men were brutally murdered in Peterborough and two men were stabbed in West Mercia.

“Today their killer and her willing accomplices have now been brought to justice.

“Joanna Dennehy is a sadistic ‘serial killer’ with a fearsome personality. She manipulated these men into doing things she wanted.

Joanna Dennehy admitted murdering three men. Photo: Cambridgeshire Police / PA WireJoanna Dennehy admitted murdering three men. Photo: Cambridgeshire Police / PA Wire

“I am relieved she is facing a substantial period of time behind bars.”

Chris McCann, from the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) in the East of England, said: “Stretch, Layton and Moore were in the thrall of triple-murderer Joanna Dennehy.

“They revelled in bringing suffering and misery upon their victims and showed no remorse for their atrocious acts.

“The fact that Leslie Layton photographed one of the deceased victims is testament to the warped nature of these crimes and those that committed them.

“I hope the two victims and the families of Lukasz Slaboszewski, John Chapman and Kevin Lee can take some comfort from the fact that the perpetrators of these crimes have been brought to justice and will be punished for what they have done.”

On Monday jurors at Cambridge Crown Court found Stretch guilty of three counts of preventing the lawful burial of a body and another count of attempted murder on Mr Rogers in Hereford on April 2.

Layton was also found guilty of perverting the course of justice.

The jury returned a majority verdict on the three remaining charges, a court official said.

During the trial, prosecutors said Dennehy “cast a spell” over her alleged accomplices and some of her victims as she killed “for fun”.

Dennehy, of Orton Goldhay, Peterborough, was likened to “Uma Thurman from Kill Bill and the woman from the Terminator” by married father-of-two Mr Lee shortly before his death.

Another victim, Mr Chapman, had dubbed her the “man woman” because of her intimidating nature.

At the height of a nationwide man-hunt, she bragged to one witness that she had killed eight people - although no further murders have been detected.

All of the murder victims died from multiple stab injuries, including wounds to the heart.

After his death at a house in Rolleston Garth, Peterborough, on or around March 19, the body of Mr Slaboszewski was stored in a wheelie bin.

At one point a smirking Dennehy showed the body to a teenage girl, prosecutor Peter Wright QC told the court.

Along with Mr Chapman, who was killed in the block of bedsits he shared with Dennehy in Bifield on March 29, his body was later dumped in a ditch near the isolated Thorney Dyke.

Mr Lee was also killed on March 29 in the same house as Mr Slaboszewski.

His body was found wearing a black sequin dress and positioned in a sexual pose in a separate ditch near Newborough, in what Mr Wright described as a “final act of humiliation”.

After the Peterborough killings, Dennehy had bragged that she and Stretch were “like Bonnie and Clyde” as they drove 140 miles across the country to search out further victims.

The court heard that she drove to Hereford with Stretch in a Vauxhall Astra registered in the false company name Undertaker and Sons.

Once there the diagnosed psychopath randomly selected and repeatedly stabbed two dog walkers - Mr Bereza and Mr Rogers - in the street. Both survived despite suffering critical injuries.

Describing the involvement of the two defendants, Mr Wright said both had been “willing and able” participants in the plot.

Neither man gave evidence in the trial, but both claimed they had been acting under duress.

Mr Brunning said the police inquiry had been “one of the largest and most complex investigations” in his 20 years’ experience.

He said Dennehy’s accomplices had “not only fuelled her violence but also assisted her in these cruel crimes, by helping her dump their bodies”.

“Stretch drove her around and helped her pick her next victims - without a thought of the impact on them or their loved ones,” he said.

“Moore sheltered Dennehy and Stretch while they were on the run and lied to police about their whereabouts while Layton was prepared to help Stretch and Dennehy with their criminal activities, helped dump the bodies and did everything in his power to assist them to avoid being caught.

“The actions of Dennehy and those who helped her have had a devastating impact on the families of those killed and the surviving victims.

“Two of the victims will live with what Dennehy has done for the rest of their lives. I hope today’s convictions will provide them, and their families, with some closure.”

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