A scheming wife used her disabled husband as a ‘cash cow’ while having an affair with his carer and blowing his inheritance on DJ equipment, lingerie and paying off the credit card, a court has heard.
Sarah Somerset-How, 49, and lover George Webb, 50, are said to have ‘enslaved’ her husband Tom, barely keeping him alive as they spent thousands of pounds of his money over a 10-year period.
Jurors at Portsmouth Crown Court were told the 40-year-old, an ‘intelligent’ history graduate with cerebral palsy, was left a virtual ‘prisoner in his own home’.
They allegedly left Mr Somerset-How, who is almost completely blind and needs round-the-clock care, in bed for 90% of the time, only allowed him to shower once a week and went a whole year without brushing his teeth.
For food he would be left with only a packet of crisps and a sandwich, the court was told, while the pair carried out their plan to ‘ostracise’ him from his family.
The jury was told that Mr Somerset-How eventually managed to raise the alarm about how he was being treated with a friend who alerted his parents.
They then staged a rescue with police and social services, ‘an operation that had the marks of extracting someone as a hostage’, the court heard.
Mrs Somerset-How and Webb are now on trial charged with holding a person in slavery, fraud, theft and ill-treatment by a care worker.
Webb faces an additional charge of ABH against Mr Somerset-How relating to an incident where is he accused of hitting him with a shoe.
The court heard the alleged offences took place between January 2010 and December 2020, when Mrs Somerset-How began her affair with Webb.
Paul Cavin, prosecuting, said: ‘These offences were a deliberate exploitation and effective enslavement of Tom.
‘Tom was born with cerebral palsy and is badly affected by it. He is wheelchair-bound and has required 24-hour care and assistance with everything since his birth.
‘His eyesight is almost to the point of blindness. He is a highly intelligent man with a degree. The defendants treated him like a piece of property instead of a person they should have cared for.’
Mr Cavin said Mr Somerset-How told the police that ‘the level of care they gave to him was barely existent’ and ‘it was the bare minimum to ensure he was alive’.
He told jurors the couple’s neglect of Mr Somerset How was deliberate.
‘This was all for a reason, not for lack of skills,’ he added.
‘In 2010, the defendant commenced an affair and thought to conceal it from him. But he was vital to their relationship – he provided them with a source of income.
‘Any divorce would have brought all that to an end. They sought to isolate him from friends and family.
‘He was not allowed to call people without one of them being present. He was their cash cow. They plundered his finances, spending £12,000 of his inheritance.’
Jurors heard Mr Somerset-How met his wife in 2008 while recovering from surgery and they moved into a purpose-built bungalow in Chichester, West Sussex, in 2010.
He had 24-hour-care paid for by social services during the week with his wife providing weekend cover before Webb, working for healthcare agency NursePlus, arrived in 2016.
This then transitioned into private care, paid for by Tom at a rate of £4,000 a month.
At work Mrs Somerset-How told colleagues that she and Webb would have sex in the sitting room after her husband had gone to bed, the court heard.
Mr Cavin said: ‘[Mr Somerset-How] was increasingly ostracised. He was not just neglected. He was not just abused. He was treated like a piece of property.
‘Every aspect of his life was controlled. His remaining independence he had was taken away from him by the defendants.
‘He couldn’t dismiss his carer who was abusing him, and his wife wouldn’t intervene or help him because she was having an affair.
‘He became a prisoner in his own home. He was entirely dependent on his abusers to stay alive.
‘Tom received money from family members, which was taken by the defendants without his consent.
‘This was spent on DJ equipment, as Mr Webb would DJ as a hobby, lingerie and paying off credit cards. Mr Webb’s salary payments were over and above.’
Eventually, in July 2020, Mr Somerset-How told a friend about the alleged abuse.
‘He confided in her about the conditions he was being kept in,’ Mr Cavin said. ‘She urged him to speak to his family, but he refused, worried that he might come to harm.’
Jurors were told the woman was so worried she contacted his parents on Facebook, where they hatched a plan to rescue him which ‘had the marks of extracting someone as a hostage’.
On August 15, the court heard Mr Somerset-How confirmed to social services he was being ill-treated and an ‘extraction date’ was agreed on for five days later.
Police officers, social services and family members all turned up and Mrs Somerset-How and Webb were arrested.
Concluding his opening, Mr Cavin said of Mr Somerset-How: ‘He became a victim of modern slavery, we argue. He was effectively imprisoned in his own home.’
Mrs Somerset-How and Webb deny the charges. The trial – expected to last four weeks – continues.
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