Eleven members of the same family who kidnapped and tortured a couple, including a heavily-pregnant woman, who they falsely suspected of murdering a widow have been jailed by a UK court today.
Police investigating the case described it as the worst case of vigilantism they have known.
The victims, who have been given new identities and cannot be named for legal reasons, were held against their will and subjected to severe beatings by the group as they attempted to extract confessions to the supposed killing.
Judge Stephen Holt told Norwich Crown Court the group had kidnapped and interrogated their victims in “scenes reminiscent of a Hollywood film”.
Police seized camcorder footage of one of the beatings – which the attackers had hoped to use to force officers to prosecute the couple for murder.
The attacks happened after 75-year-old Gertrude Frankham – widow of leading Travellers’ rights campaigner Eli Frankham – was found dead in her bed in Walpole St Andrew, Norfolk, in December 2012.
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 to local newspaper the Lynn News 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.
Passing sentence, Judge Holt said some of the family still belive Mrs Frankham was murdered.
He added: “This is a family that believed it was above the law and imposed its own law.
“We can hear on the video pure aggression in your voices.
“The psychological impact of this is impossible to comprehend.”
Violet Chilton (aged 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 (aged 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 (aged 18) of Walpole, was found guilty of kidnap and false imprisonment. He will serve 18 months in youth custody.
Vanessa Frankham (aged 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 (aged 18) of Wisbech, was found guilty of false imprisonment. She was given 18 months in youth custody.
Jesse Frankham (aged 17) of Walpole St Andrew, was found guilty of guilty and false imprisonment. He was given an 18 month detention and training order.
Laura Ann Dolan (aged 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 (aged 35) of Walpole St Andrew, admitted false imprisonment and unlawful wounding. He was jailed for five years.
Edward Dolan Snr (aged 38) of Walpole St Andrew, admitted kidnap, two counts of false imprisonment and wounding with intent. He was jailed for 12 years.
Conboy (aged 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 (aged 47) of Thistlebrook, London, admitted false imprisonment and unlawful wounding. She was jailed for three and a half years.
Outside court, the family continued to insist that Mrs Frankham had been murdered.
Carrying a placard reading “We will get your justice granny”, her grandson Alfie Frankham, aged 42, said: “The wrong people have gone to jail today.”
The family issued a statement reading: “Family members have been sentenced here today for taking the law into their own hands as they felt the police never took their concerns seriously enough.
“Today is the beginning of our campaign: Justice for Gert Frankham.”