Scarborough man jailed for life

Martin Bell
Martin Bell

A Scarborough taxi driver who confessed killing a Leeds woman 14 years after dumping her dismembered body at a Yorkshire beauty spot has been jailed for life.

Martin Bell was today told he must serve a minimum of 12 years in prison over the death of Gemma Simpson.

A judge told Bell he had maintained a “callous silence” since the killing in May 2000.

Gemma’s father, Glenn, described the time since her disappearance and the discovery of her body in August this year as “4,980 day of pain”

Martin Bell was hearing voices from God and believed in witches at the time he killed Gemma Simpson with a hammer at his home in Harrogate.

He then put her body in a bath and left it there for four days before sawing her legs off so he could fit it inside a hire car

Bell, who admitted manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility, then put the body into the car and drove it to Brimham Rocks, near Harrogate, where he buried it.

Gemma was 23 at the time she went missing from her home in Harehills, Leeds, in May 2000.

She was last seen by a friend who said that Gemma told her she was going to visit a friend in Huddersfield for the weekend.

But she instead met Bell, who she had known for around five years, and caught a train with him to his home in Harrogate.

After the killing, Bell avoided the attention of the police for many years, leading a law-abiding life and setting up home with a woman and her children.

Bell walked into a police station in July this year and confessed to the killing before showing officers where he had buried Gemma’s body.

The court heard that Bell had been assessed by doctors who concluded that he had a psychotic illness similar to schizophrenia at the time of the killing.

The Recorder of Leeds, Judge Peter Collier, QC, said: “The killing of Gemma Simpson was brutal; your treatment of her body after death was dreadful; but your culpability was considerably diminished by your mental illness.”

Gemma’s family released a statement after the hearing which read: “Gemma was a young woman in the prime of her life who raised a smile and lit up every room she entered.

Her family will never come to terms with the loss of Gemma. We are victims as well.

“There is no sentence which can be imposed which will reduce the pain and suffering Martin Bell has caused Gemma’s family during the past 14 years, whilst all the time he was leading a normal life.

“He left us in limbo for each one of those years. A total of nearly 5,000 days of pain in which we worried constantly for Gemma and her wellbeing.

“That chill in our hearts became an integral, perpetual part of our lives and the knowledge that Bell could watch all of our and the police’s efforts to find her while going on with his own affairs for so long quite simply beggars belief.

“While we now know what happened to our daughter, there is a shadow on our lives which will never be lifted and Bell is the cause of that.

“Our beautiful Gemma was a bright shining light in our world. A light which Martin Bell extinguished.”

The last sighting of her was by a friend who saw her getting on a bus in Harehills at about 12.30pm on Friday, May 5, 2000.

She told her friend she was going to visit someone in Huddersfield but it is now known that was not the case.

Martin Bell, who was 30 years old at the time, had been phoned by Gemma and arranged to meet her at Leeds railway station before they both went back to his flat in Knaresborough Road, Harrogate.

He had first met Gemma through a mutual friend in 1990 and they spent a lot of time together over the next two to three years, even living together for periods.

Bell then discovered that Gemma was gay and their relationship cooled until about 1999 when they made contact again. By March 2000, they were in contact two or three times a week.

Gemma was reported missing to the police on July 20, 2000 and a missing persons investigation commenced. This involved wide-ranging enquiries, including numerous searches of properties, and the case attracted extensive media publicity both locally and nationally.

As enquiries continued, Bell was identified as one of about ten people of interest to the investigation. He was interviewed about Gemma’s disappearance but claimed not to have seen her. His flat was searched by police in September 2002 but nothing was found.

On July 8, 2014, Bell went to Scarborough Police Station and told staff that he had killed Gemma and knew where her body was.

He was arrested and taken to Leeds where he was interviewed by detectives and fully admitted killing Gemma at his flat in Harrogate.

He told officers he had hit her on the head with a hammer, stabbed her in the head and back and put her in a bath of water. A forensic examination of the flat following his admissions found traces of Gemma’s blood on a door frame despite the amount of time that had passed.

He had partially dismembered her body cutting off the lower parts of both her legs and wrapped the body in a sleeping bag which he secured with chains and padlocks.

He then hired a car and drove Gemma’s body to the Brimham Rocks area and buried her in a shallow grave.

Following Bell’s admissions, detectives from West Yorkshire Police Homicide and Major Enquiry Team, supported by North Yorkshire Police, began a search of the area where Gemma was believed to be buried.

Bell was taken to the scene to point out the area where he had buried her. It was overgrown with dense bracken that needed to be stripped away before detailed investigations could begin.

The next few weeks saw extensive work by specialist police search teams, backed by expert assistance from forensic archaeologists and an anthropologist.

On Friday, August 8, 2014, human remains were discovered which were subsequently identified as being Gemma’s.

A post mortem examination showed her death was due to multiple injuries.

Detective Chief Inspector Adrian Taylor, of West Yorkshire Police Homicide and Major Enquiry Team, said: “Gemma’s family are completely devastated at their loss, particularly knowing, as they do now, that she died violently at Bell’s hands.

“While his conviction today has finally answered the question of what happened to Gemma, we fully recognise that no sentence will ever be able to compensate her family for the pain they have suffered as a result of his actions.”