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Carer jailed for storing pensioner's body in freezer for two years after being 'overcome with grief'
5 December 2023, 19:54
A carer, who stored the body of a man in his freezer, has now been sentenced after admitting to preventing a lawful and decent burial and three counts of fraud.
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A carer, who stored the body of a man in his freezer, has now been sentenced to two years in prison.
As well as being sentenced for preventing the lawful and decent burial of John Wainwright, 71, Damion Johnson also admitted to three counts of fraud.
Johnson was jailed for two years for preventing a burial and was given concurrent six-month sentences for each of the three fraud charges.
On Tuesday 5 December, Derby Crown Court heard that Mr Wainwright died in September 2018 and was not found until August 2020 in a freezer on the premises of a skip company.
On 25 September 2018, Johnson ordered a two-feet-by-three-feet freezer for around £462.
Prosecutor Darron Whitehead said that Johnson, 53, had known Mr Wainwright for 27 years and moved in with him into a flat in Cleveland Tower, Holloway Head, in Birmingham city centre.
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In 2015, Johnson legally registered as Mr Wainwright’s carer.
The two men were described by peers as having a "strong friendship".
Johnson said Mr Wainwright was like a father figure and told police, at the time of his arrest, that he was "overcome with grief" following the death.
Mr Whitehead said: "The defendant says he was not thinking rationally and was not ready to let go of Mr Wainwright.
"As time passed, he had been unable to inform the authorities."
Johnson informed Mr Wainwright’s friends and family that he had died and that the funeral had already taken place but failed to inform emergency services or obtain a death certificate.
At one point, a friend of Mr Wainwright stayed at the flat whilst the pensioner’s body was stored in the freezer in the same room.
In December 2019, Johnson was arrested for unrelated matters.
Police did not search the property but they barred Johnson from returning.
The flat was boarded up on 6 December, with the freezer unplugged inside.
People attended the flat later to conduct safety checks and reported a strong “horrendous” and “unbearable” smell.
Eight months later, a removal team took the freezer away but assumed the smell of Mr Wainwright’s decomposing body was rotting food before the corpse was found by staff at Budget Skips Services Ltd in Exhall, Warwickshire.
A post-mortem examination took place on 26 August 2020, where signs of blunt force trauma were found.
However, Mr Whitehead said: "It was not possible to confirm or exclude natural disease as a cause or contributor to death."
The prosecutor told the court how from September 2018 to May 2020, Johson used Mr Wainwright’s bank card for purchases.
He also withdrew £17,000 and made 11 transfers, worth an additional £2,475, to his bank account.
Whilst Johnson admitted preventing a burial, he denied fraud in May 2023.
However, he pleaded guilty to the fraud offences in August.
Raglan Ashton, mitigating, said Johnson had worked as a carer and a healthcare assistant at the Royal Derby Hospital and had an "informal agreement" with Mr Wainwright that whoever died first would still be able to access the funds, which were in a joint account.
He said: "Perhaps one can understand that if one sees it against that background, perhaps it was not a callous act but an act, clearly inappropriate, of someone who was finding it very hard to come to terms with the death of Mr Wainwright."
Johnson’s former flatmate said: "As far as I know, Damion and John were going out with each other for 25 years and they had been living with each other in Birmingham.
"Damion told me they had a joint bank account together. He never told me he was dead. I didn't know that until it all went to court."
Jailing Johnson, of Sun Street, Derby, Judge Shaun Smith KC said preventing a burial was an "unusual offence" but that he was "not suggesting at all" that the defendant had any involvement in Mr Wainwright's death.
He said: "Had you accepted his death and gone about it in a normal way, he would have received a good and decent burial.
He suggested that Johnson’s act was "deliberate": "You bought a chest freezer, a deliberate act on your part. You knew what you were going to do.
"Everything you did facilitated the hiding of that body. Nothing you did contributed to it being found.
"It is an offence which is a serious affront to public standards of decency and you must serve that sentence and it cannot be suspended."
Mr Wainwright grew up in Coventry and worked as a manager for a community warden scheme run by the city council.