September 30 2014 Latest news:
Peter Walsh, Crime correspondent
Thursday, April 3, 2014
Eleven members of a West Norfolk family who abducted and viciously attacked a man and his heavily pregnant partner have today been jailed for a total of 60 years.
The victims, who cannot be named for legal reasons, were separately held against their will and subject to sustained beatings by the group - putting the woman in fear of losing her baby.
Spanning three generations, those involved in the offences were all related to Gertrude Frankham who died at her home in Walpole St Andrew, aged 75, in December 2012.
Becoming convinced in the months that followed that she had in fact been killed, the attacks were launched by the family in a bid to force a confession from the people they thought were involved.
A comprehensive police investigation by detectives from the joint Norfolk and Suffolk Major Investigation Team subsequently proved the allegations were unfounded.
Today, five men and six women aged between 17 and 57, were sentenced at Norwich Crown Court to sentences ranging from 12 years to an 18 month detention and training order.
Passing sentence, Judge Stephen Holt said some of the family still belive Mrs Frankham was murdered.
Judge Holt said: “This family believed that it was above the law of the land and could impose its own law.”
Speaking after the group were sentenced, Superintendent Dennis Lacey said: “Despite there never being any evidence of murder they decided to take the law into their own hands through violence and intimidation.
“In 27 years in the police, I have never seen anything like this in terms of the number of people involved and the seriousness of the assaults.
“Vigilantism cannot be tolerated and the sentences handed down reflect the unnecessary level of violence used.”
Six members of Mrs Frankham’s family - including daughters Violet Chilton, Sheila Conboy and Valerie Harris along with some of her grandchildren and great grandchildren - were found guilty of various offences after a trial earlier this year. Five others admitted their involvement.
Despite police exhuming Mrs Frankham’s body and two post-mortem examinations finding she died of natural causes, the family continued to believe the pair had killed and stolen from her.
Speaking after her mother’s death, Violet Chilton said: “I will fight until the day I die for justice. She was our queen and she deserves justice.”
Prosecutor John Farmer told the court that the offenders took on different roles with some acting as interrogators and others as violent enforcers in an attempt to gather evidence to give to the police.
The pair were individually dragged to a warehouse and made to sit in a chair as they were surrounded and beaten in April last year, Mr Farmer said.
During the attack on the woman, who was seven months pregnant, Conboy called police to say she had confessed to murder.
The recording of the 999 call, which was played in court, includes the woman screaming as she was repeatedly hit in a “brutal” attack.
The male victim was told that if he went to police his family would be killed while he was forced to watch, the trial heard.
Both suffered severe injuries and the woman went into labour and successfully gave birth soon after being released from hospital.
Violet Chilton, 57, of St John’s Fen End, was found guilty of false imprisonment and grievous bodily harm after a trial earlier this year. She was ordered to serve six years in prison.
Thomas Chilton, 29, of St John’s Fen End, was found guilty of two counts of kidnap and two of false imprisonment. He was imprisoned for six years.
Edward Dolan Jnr, 18, of Walpole, was found guilty of kidnap and false imprisonment. He will serve 18 months in youth custody.
Vanessa Frankham, 48, of Walpole St Andrew, was found guilty of kidnap, blackmail and actual bodily harm. She had previously admitted false imprisonment. She was jailed for seven years.
Diane Evans, 18, of Wisbech, was found guilty of false imprisonment. She was given 18 months in youth custody.
Jesse Frankham, 17, of Walpole St Andrew, was found guilty of kidnap and false imprisonment. He was given an 18 month detention and training order.
Laura Ann Dolan, 37, of Sutton Bridge, had earlier pleaded guilty to kidnap, two counts of false imprisonment and two counts of unlawful wounding. She was sentenced to eight years.
Wayne Dolan, 35, of Walpole St Andrew, admitted false imprisonment and unlawful wounding. He was jailed for five years.
Edward Dolan Snr, 38, of Walpole St Andrew, admitted kidnap, two counts of false imprisonment and wounding with intent. He was jailed for 12 years.
Conboy, 55, of Walpole St Andrew, pleaded guilty to two counts of false imprisonment and two of unlawful wounding. She was ordered to serve eight years.
Harris, 47, of Thistlebrook, London, admitted false imprisonment and unlawful wounding. She was jailed for three and a half years.