Nichola Roberts, who tortured and murdered man, gets closer to freedom

Sadistic woman who brutally tortured then murdered vulnerable man while he was kept as a slave by her family for a decade is one step closer to freedom

  • EXCLUSIVE: Nichola Roberts won a move from closed conditions to open estate

A sadistic female member of a depraved family gang who kept a ‘vulnerable’ man as a slave, tortured him before finally cutting off his head has been moved to an open jail as a precursor to being freed.

Nichola Roberts, now 34, had served only 13-years of a life sentence for murder when she was recommended for a transfer to a cushy Cat D prison by the Parole Board.

Roberts, then 22, was one of three people convicted of murder over the horrific death of Michael Gilbert, 26, who was stabbed, shot with an airgun and treated like a dog for a decade.

The case sent shockwaves through the police and social services and two separate reports found Mr Gilbert was let down by numerous professionals from early childhood until his body was found dumped in the Blue Lagoon in Arlesey, Bedfordshire, in 2009.

Nichola Roberts, pictured in 2010, has been moved to an open jail as a precursor to being freed

Roberts, then 22, was one of three people convicted of murder over the horrific death of Michael Gilbert (pictured), 26, who was stabbed, shot with an airgun and treated like a dog for a decade

He was kept as a slave by a family known to the police, beaten and sexually abused before being killed while his captors claimed his benefit money.

Three police investigations involving Mr Gilbert were ‘flawed’, the Independent Police Complaints Commission said in 2011.

In 2010, Roberts was convicted at Luton Crown Court of murder alongside ringleader James Watt, 27 and his girlfriend, Natasha Oldfield, 29.

James’s brother, Robert Watt, 20, and his mother, Jennifer Smith-Dennis, 58, were jailed for eight years and 10 years respectively for familial homicide.

A third brother, Richard Watt, 25, who was Robert’s boyfriend, who previously pleaded guilty to familial homicide, was sentenced to six years in prison.

MailOnline has learned that Roberts won a move from closed conditions to the open estate, which offers outside job opportunities, supervised day trips and eventually weekend release.

A spokesperson for the Parole Board confirmed: ‘The Parole Board refused the release of Nicola Roberts but recommended a move to an open conditions prison following an oral hearing in December 2022.

‘This was a recommendation only and the Secretary of State for Justice considers the advice before making the final decision on whether a prisoner is suitable for open conditions.

In 2010, Roberts was convicted at Luton Crown Court of murder alongside ringleader James Watt (left) and his girlfriend, Natasha Oldfield (Right)

Officers pull a bag containing Michael Gilbert’s body from the lagoon in a grim discovery in 2009

‘We will only make a recommendation for open conditions if a Parole Board panel is satisfied that the risk to the public has reduced sufficiently to be manageable in an open prison and if a transfer to open prison is considered to be essential to inform future decisions about release.

‘A move to open conditions involves testing the prisoner’s readiness for any potential return into the community in future. Prisoners moved to open conditions can be returned to closed conditions if there is concern about their behaviour.

‘The prisoner and witnesses are then questioned at length during the hearing which often lasts a full day or more. Parole reviews are undertaken thoroughly and with extreme care. Protecting the public is our number one priority.’

MailOnline also understands that Robert Watt and his mother, Jennifer Smith-Dennis, were released after serving their sentence.

Richard Watt was also freed, but later recalled to prison for breaches of his licence conditions.

The court evidence and various later investigations painted a miserable picture of Mr Gilbert’s childhood. He was in and out of foster care and children’s homes with no one in charge of his well-being.

When he left the care system he went to live with the Watt family after meeting James Watt in a children’s home when he was 15.

He endured appalling violence at their home including being stabbed, hit with a baseball bat, forced to stand in boiling water and shot at with an air pistol.

Evidence given during the criminal trial revealed he had locking pliers attached to his body to lead him around ‘like a dog on a lead’.

He was also attacked by the group’s pet pit bulls. The gang were all from Luton, Bedfordshire.

In one bizarre incident, he was even made to goad a large exotic lizard until it attacked him.

The appalling beatings were often recorded on mobile phones. His main tormentor’s girlfriend even invented a ‘game show’ where individuals were paid to assault him.

Although Mr Gilbert did escape occasionally, the gang would contact the Department for Work and Pensions and quote his national insurance number to discover where he was signing on before snatching him back.

Astonishingly, police were aware he was in trouble but he didn’t want to pursue a complaint because the victim had said ‘it would make it worse for me in the long run’.

Mr Gilbert finally died after a new form of torture was devised, involving members of the family jumping on his stomach.

They then hacked his corpse into pieces at their home before throwing it into a lake known as the Blue Lagoon in nearby Arlesey.

Some parts of his body, including the torso, hands and feet, were found by two dog walkers last year, while others, including his head, were only recovered in February 2011.

Judge John Bevan told the jurors that they had sat through ‘ghastly’ evidence and excused any from being called for jury service again.

After the hearing, Mr Gilbert’s mother, Rosalie, 49, focused her anger on Smith-Dennis.

‘What sort of woman would allow the things we heard about to go on in her home and for all those years?’ she said.

‘You raise your kids to be the best they can be, not cold-blooded murderers. That mother could have done something to help Michael and never did.’

Prosecutor Stuart Trimmer, QC, told Luton Crown Court: ‘He was without anyone with the power to break his bondage to this family.’

Three independent inquiries found that Bedfordshire police had made a series of blunders, including taking down the wrong mobile phone number and even said Mr Gilbert could have invented his injuries.

Commissioner Rachel Cerfontyne , of The IPCC said in 2011: ‘This is a tragic case and one where the horrific manner of Michael’s death must make it even harder for his loved ones to cope with their loss.

‘We looked at specific allegations that the police did not investigate three incidents involving Michael and the Watt family.

Gang ringleader James Watt, now 39, received a minimum term of 36 years in jail and Natasha Oldfield, now 41, got a minimum tariff of 18-years. Both are still in prison.

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