Daniel Newstead, Chantelle Franklyn Booth and Joe Boyer life sentences Jessica Lynas, and Duncan Edwards 13 and 15 years
Twenty-seven year old Gemma Hayter’s body was found on 9 August 2010 on a disused railway line in Rugby. Her murder and the abuse that she suffered beforehand were abhorrent, committed by people she believed to be her friends. The murder of Gemma is particularly difficult to understand when you consider that she was a young woman who had learning disabilities due to a rare congenital disorder.
This rendered her incapable of defending herself on both a verbal and physical level. Even more disturbing is the knowledge that the torture, abuse and humiliating end to Gemma’s life was brought about by a group of individuals that she trusted and considered friends.
For a well-adjusted human being, the feeling that is provoked when we encounter another’s vulnerability is a desire to protect. We see their need and offer compassion. There are, however, dangerous and manipulative individuals who see that same vulnerability as an opportunity to exploit and prey on those less capable.
In this case, and cases that are similar in nature, there is a common factor in the perpetrators’ desire to completely dehumanise their victim.
The more they are able to strip away the individual’s dignity, personality and autonomy, the more they are able to distance themselves from their actions. Such behaviour is legitimised further when there is more than one perpetrator. In this case, five people were involved in Gemma’s murder, which allowed them to give permission to one another to carry out the atrocious behaviour. This pack mentality is particularly dangerous as it enables the escalation of violence, with each perpetrator potentially wishing to outdo the others.
The fact that Gemma had serious learning disabilities meant that her reactions offered her killers a perfect platform for abuse. The judge in this case referred to Gemma as a ‘loyal dog’ who, in spite of being tortured, was so desperate to belong to a social circle that she willingly followed her abusers to her death.
Individuals who prey on people like Gemma do so because they can. Human beings crave belonging and acceptance, and when this is not forthcoming in positive relationships they will seek it elsewhere. This offers sadistic, controlling and dangerous individuals opportunities to enter the lives of vulnerable people.
Gemma, for all intents and purposes, was the perfect prey; she was selected and hunted down by a group of callous killers who knew that she wouldn’t seek help or protection. Each member of the group recognised that they could manipulate, coerce or force Gemma to do whatever they desired for their own sick pleasure, without fear of retaliation.
Whilst such criminals are rare, it is a stark reminder of the need to protect and support our society’s most vulnerable and needy members. In ensuring that such individuals are looked after, Gemma’s death will at least benefit others like her and mean that her loss was not a total waste.
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