Murder accused ‘bullied and ganged up’ on autistic man found dead in river, court hears

PUBLISHED: 17:03 14 October 2020 | UPDATED: 17:03 14 October 2020

Joe Pooley, from Ipswich, who was found in the River Gipping   Picture: SUFFOLK CONSTABULARY

Joe Pooley, from Ipswich, who was found in the River Gipping Picture: SUFFOLK CONSTABULARY


A Great Yarmouth man accused with three other people of murder attacked an autistic man whose body was discovered in a river in Ipswich, a court has heard.

Body has had been discovered in the River Gipping near London Road, Ipswich Picture: RACHEL EDGEBody has had been discovered in the River Gipping near London Road, Ipswich Picture: RACHEL EDGE

Prosecutors allege the four defendants ganged up and murdered 22-year-old Joe Pooley, who was found dead in the River Gipping.

All four, two men and two women, have denied murdering Mr Pooley on or before August 7, 2018.

They also deny an alternative charge of manslaughter.

Mr Pooley was found by a dog walker at about 10.30am on Monday, August 13, 2018, in the River Gipping, close to London Road.

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

Before the court are Sean Palmer, 30, of South Market Road, Great Yarmouth, Sebastian Smith, 35, of no fixed address, Becki West-Davidson, 30, of Rope Walk, Ipswich, and Lisa-Marie Smith, 26, of Hawick, Roxburghshire.

At the opening of the trial on Wednesday morning (October 14), prosecution counsel Christopher Paxton QC told jurors: “In the early hours of August 7, 2018, Joe Pooley was murdered by these four defendants.

“The prosecution case is that each had a role to play in events that caused Joe Pooley’s young life to end in the waters of the River Gipping.”

Mr Paxton said Mr Pooley had been under the wing of adult social care and was considered to be “vulnerable, trusting of others and easily taken advantage of”.

He 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 alleged that West-Davidson had encouraged others to attack Mr Pooley at the riverside.

He claimed that Sebastian Smith and Palmer had attacked Mr Pooley and caused his body to end up in the river.

He alleged that Sebastian Smith’s then girlfriend, Lisa-Marie Smith, lured Mr Pooley from his address at the Kingsley House Hotel, in London Road, knowing he was going to be attacked, or at the very least “given a serious beating”.

“Lisa Smith exploited his trust to ensure he received the beating she knew was to take place”, he told jurors.

“These four defendants had no regard for the life of Joe Pooley. Hence, why he was attacked, following which, his body was dumped in that river.”

Mr Paxton said a timeline would set out telephone calls showing hostility and anger – particularly from Sebastian Smith and West-Davidson – and how the defendants were “closely entwined” in Mr Pooley’s alleged murder.

He claimed that, following the discovery of Mr Pooley’s body, Palmer told his then girlfriend that Sebastian Smith had punched Mr Pooley, and that he helped put him in the river.

He also alleged that Sebastian Smith had made a similar confession – later telling another person: “Oh, I’ve murdered someone.”

Mr Paxton claimed West-Davidson “tried to cover up” the alleged murder by deleting numerous Facebook messages, including one in which Mr Pooley asked her to “call off the hit” and another including a threat Pooley, which he described as “not an empty threat, but a threat loaded with intent”.

He said that, on August 22, Sebastian Smith and Lisa-Marie Smith had “hastened” a move from Ipswich to Scotland, where Sebastian Smith took that name, having previously been called Luke Greenland.

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”.

Mr Paxton told jurors: “From the heights of professed love, Rebecca West-Davidson fell into a rage.”

He said a voicemail message, played to the court, from Sebastian Smith to West-Davidson, demonstrated 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, Lisa-Marie Smith and West-Davidson “bullied, threatened and ganged up on” Mr Pooley, believing him to be the source of “rumours, slurs and name calling”.

The trial is expected to last eight weeks at Ipswich Crown Court.

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