On 18th February, Nicholas Campbell QC and Deborah Smithies appeared for the prosecution at Sheffield Crown Court where His Honour Judge Slater sentenced Craig and Lorna Hewitt for (1) the false imprisonment of her autistic son Matthew Langley, and (2) causing or allowing him (a vulnerable adult) to suffer serious physical harm. After a trial that had lasted five weeks, they had been convicted unanimously on both counts.

For a period of seven months, the couple had locked Matthew inside his attic bedroom and thereby controlled his access to food and drink. On 7th November 2019 he had weighed 53.6 kgs. By 2nd June 2020, when he was rushed to the Northern General Hospital in Sheffield, he had lost 14 kgs. and weighed just 39 kgs. Those charged with his care there had never before come across a patient in so filthy a condition, or so severely malnourished and dehydrated; left untreated, experts opined to the Court that he would have survived only a few days. The course of treatment was meticulously judged, demanding constant monitoring and adjustments to ensure a recovery that would avoid serious adverse consequences. In his sentencing remarks, the Judge paid tribute to the NGH teams, whose skill and dedication not only saved Matthew’s life but restored his ability to enjoy it.

The Judge found that the defendants had together planned this activity, and that each was equally to blame. He found that their deployment of Matthew’s vulnerable sister to deliver what food and drink he was allowed was tantamount to her acting as an “unwitting gaoler”; this, he explained, aggravated the offence. She had delivered the care packages to that attic room the state of which, by the time that the emergency services were alerted on 2nd June 2020 and the arrival of the police to investigate that same day, the Judge described as one of “abject squalour and filth.” He sentenced each to a total of six years imprisonment, concurrently on both counts.

The culpability had been obvious from that date. The forensic route to accountability was far from clear. Nicholas and Deborah are grateful to the investigating police officers, who it is unlikely will ever be able to forget their experience of attending that scene, and to the members of the jury for their constant dedication to the case, in spite of Covid related delays. In particular, we commend the officer in the case, DC 2144 Susannah (“Susi”)Taylor, for her commitment and tenacity along what was a long road to justice.