THE BLOG
06/23/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Why Did Michael Gilbert Die?

Today a jury in Luton, a town just north of London, brought in guilty verdicts against six people connected to the Watt family, who were found to have committed familial homicide or murder against Michael Gilbert, a disabled man.

They had held him captive for many years, said the prosecutor, had robbed him, assaulted him, shot him, stabbed him and filmed their assaults for entertainment.

Michael tried to get away several times. Each time family members tracked him down, using his national insurance number, and brought him back. He and the few friends he had, did try to make their voices heard, their concerns raised about his well-being. But nobody raised the alarm.

Just a few days before his murder, he was brought to the job centre to sign on and cash his giro cheque. The benefits worker, shocked at his appearance, asked him if he needed medical assistance. Michael, intimidated by the only family that seemed to want him (he was largely estranged from his natural family), refused help.

A few days later, he died. The family then dismembered him, wrapped his remains in bin bags and threw him in a lake.

I was in court and heard some of the testimony and the judge's summing up. I saw Michael's mother, grey with grief, hear the catalogue of abuse that Michael had suffered.

Of the 100 or so cases of disability hate crimes that I have looked at, this is one of the worst. I don't want to create a hierarchy of abuse, but Michael was tortured for nearly ten years. Many people knew what was happening to Michael, or had suspicions. But he was left to be murdered by the family he said he loved.

Next week, I'll update on the case as the Watt family is due to be sentenced. (One family member, Antonio Watt, was found not guilty of all charges.)

And I'll also get back to the election, which I've been covering for the Economist newspaper for over a month -- it's been an exciting time. At last voters are saying they want their votes to count -- and politicians are having to listen. Perhaps a renewal of democracy at last?