The Disappearance of Becky Watts
Becky Watts, who lived with her father and step-mother at an address in Crown Hill, Bristol, went missing on the 19th of February in 2015. She had stayed at a friend’s house the previous night and returned home, apparently then leaving the house again afterwards. Her step-mother told police she last saw her at around 11:15 that morning before leaving for a hospital appointment. Early reports suggested she had taken her phone, laptop and tablet computer with her, but no extra clothes or money, and did not tell friends or family where she was going. Her disappearance was described as “out of character”.
Becky Watts was reported missing by her family on the 20th of February, at around 4 pm. Two days later, Avon and Somerset Police made their first appeal for information into her disappearance. The following day, her father and grandmother appeared at a press conference appealing for her “to come home”. An online campaign using the hashtag “#FindBecky” was launched on social media, reaching more than two million people worldwide.
Police activities focused on a number of properties in the Barton Hill area of Bristol and in Southmead, as well as a lake in St. George Park and Troopers Hill nature reserve. In addition, searches were made in nearby open spaces and park areas, as well as house to house inquiries. Searches were also organised by public volunteers including in Wharf Road in Fishponds, Trym Valley and Badock’s Wood. Police put out a public appeal for information regarding the movements of a black Vauxhall Zafira between the dates of 19 and 23 February.
Initial inquiries focused on the belief that Becky Watts had left the family home on the 19th of February. However, at the trial this was revealed to be false information given by Nathan Matthews and Shauna Hoare. During the missing persons investigation, after police learned they had been at the house in Crown Hill around the time of her disappearance, both Matthews and Hoare gave witness statements telling officers that they had not seen Becky Watts that day but “heard the door slam” and assumed she had left.
On the 28th of February, 2015, it was announced that a 28-year-old man and a 21-year-old woman had been arrested on suspicion of kidnap. Two days later, the pair were re-arrested on suspicion of murder. On the 3rd of March, Avon and Somerset Police confirmed that, after receiving “new information”, body parts believed to be those of Becky Watts had been discovered, in a house at Barton Court in the Barton Hill area of Bristol. A further five people were arrested on suspicion of assisting an offender.
On the 4th of March, Watts’ step-brother, Nathan Matthews, was charged with her murder. On the 6th of March, four other people were charged with assisting an offender, having been accused of helping to hide or dispose of her body. A fifth person, a 23-year-old man who was also arrested on March 2nd, was released without charge.
On the 22nd of June, Matthews’ girlfriend, 21-year-old Shauna Hoare, who was originally charged with perverting the course of justice, was also charged with murder. Matthews and Hoare were also charged with conspiracy to kidnap, preventing lawful burial and possession of an illegal weapon. The pair were also charged with four counts of making indecent images of children, although these were unrelated to the murder. Matthews was also charged on unrelated counts of sexual assault and voyeurism.
The Trial and The Verdicts
The murder trial began on the 6th of October, 2015 at Bristol Crown Court. It was the prosecution’s case that Becky Watts was suffocated in her bedroom on February 19th, 2015 during an alleged “sexually-motivated” kidnap plot carried out by Nathan Matthews and Shauna Hoare. According to the prosecution, after the killing, Matthews and Hoare put Becky’s body into the boot of their car and remained at the Crown Hill address for several more hours, during which time other family members arrived home. Later that day, they drove back to their own house, where they spent the days after dismembering her body using a knife and a circular saw, and “carefully packaged” the body parts into bags and boxes before arranging it to be stored in a neighbor’s shed.
Matthews admitted killing Becky Watts, but denied committing murder. He instead claimed manslaughter, telling the court that he had tried to kidnap Becky as a way of scaring her into changing what he perceived as her bad behavior, but the plan went wrong and he accidentally killed her. (Becky Watts was suffocated in her bedroom and stabbed 15 times in the abdomen after her death.) Matthews insisted the killing took place while Hoare was in the garden, and that she was not involved. Hoare, who also denied murder, said she had no knowledge of, or involvement in, Watts’ death, describing text messages she had exchanged with Matthews about kidnapping schoolgirls in the months before as “unfortunate” and “sarcastic”.
The prosecution claimed that the text messages between the two, as well as other content found at their home, suggested “a shared unnatural interest in attractive teenage females”. The prosecution also relied on CCTV evidence of the movements of Matthews and Hoare on the day of Watts’ death and in the following days. On the 19th of February, before going to Crown Hill, they were seen in a Tesco supermarket buying batteries, which were allegedly needed for stun guns which they intended to use in the kidnap. CCTV footage from the day after Becky Watts was killed showed Matthews buying the circular saw that was used to dismember her body, and between the 20th and the 22nd of February, he and Hoare were captured shopping for cleaning products which was said they required to clean the bathroom where the dismemberment took place. DNA linked both Matthews and Hoare to items that were found in the shed alongside Watts’ body parts, and an expert was called to give evidence who said it would be “easier” to carry out the dismemberment if more than one person was involved.
On the 11th of November, 2015, after three hours and 27 minutes of deliberations, the jury found Matthews guilty of murder and Hoare guilty of manslaughter. Both were also convicted of conspiracy to kidnap Becky Watts, perverting the course of justice, preventing a lawful burial by dismembering and hiding her body, and possession of two stun guns.
Two men, James Ireland and Donovan Demetrius, were cleared of assisting an offender, which related to the moving and storing of packages containing Watts’ body parts. Donovan’s brother Karl Demetrius and his girlfriend Jaydene Parsons, who owned the shed where Becky Watts’ remains were stored, had admitted the same charge at an earlier pre-trial hearing, though both insisted they did not know the true contents of the packages.
At Bristol Crown Court on the 13th of November, 2015, Mr Justice Dingemans sentenced Matthews to life imprisonment with a minimum term of 33 years and Hoare to 17 years in prison. In his sentencing remarks, the judge agreed with the prosecution’s belief that the planned kidnap was for a “sexual purpose”, telling Matthews he had “a fixation with having sex with petite teenage girls” and that he believed Hoare had been “persuaded to participate in this fixation.”
The judge began to sob as he neared the conclusion of his sentencing remarks. He said: “Finally I should like to pay public tribute to the family of Becky Watts for the dignified way in which they have conducted themselves throughout these proceedings” and then continued: “Hearing the evidence during the trial has been difficult for anyone but it is plain that it has been an immense burden for the family.” There were tears in his eyes and he left the court quickly.
On the 5th of February, 2016, Demetrius and Parsons were sentenced after admitting assisting an offender. Demetrius was jailed for two years, while Parsons was jailed for 16 months.
Both Matthews and Hoare tried to appeal against their convictions and sentences, however on the 23rd of June, 2016, the Court of Appeal rejected their applications, saying that there was “no reasonable argument that the convictions are unsafe or that the sentences were wrong in principle or manifestly excessive.”