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Man jailed for storing pensioner’s body in freezer for two years

Damion Johnson arriving at Derby Crown Court for a previous hearing (Callum Parke/PA)
Damion Johnson arriving at Derby Crown Court for a previous hearing (Callum Parke/PA)

A carer who stored a man’s body in a freezer for two years due to being “overcome with grief” over his death has been jailed.

Damion Johnson was sentenced to two years in prison after previously admitting to preventing the lawful and decent burial of the body of John Wainwright, as well as three counts of fraud.

Derby Crown Court heard on Tuesday that Mr Wainwright, 71, died in September 2018 and was not found until August 2020 in the freezer on the premises of a skip company.

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, in 2015 as his registered carer.

The pair were described by a friend as having a “strong friendship” and Johnson described Mr Wainwright as a father figure, telling police after his arrest that he was “overcome by 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.”

On September 25 2018, Johnson ordered a chest freezer measuring approximately two feet by three feet, costing £462.

Johnson told relatives and friends that Mr Wainwright had died and that the funeral had already taken place, but did not inform the emergency services or obtain a death certificate.

At one stage, a friend of Mr Wainwright stayed at the flat while the pensioner’s body was stored in the freezer in the same room.

In December 2019 the defendant was arrested for unrelated matters, and while police did not search the property, they barred Johnson from returning, and the flat was boarded up on December 6 with the freezer unplugged inside.

Several people later attended the flat to conduct safety checks and noted a strong smell, described as “horrendous” and “unbearable”.

On August 21 2020, a removal team took the freezer away, and while noting the smell, mistook this for rotting food before Mr Wainwright’s body was found by staff at Budget Skips Services Ltd in Exhall, Warwickshire.

A post-mortem examination, conducted on August 26 2020, noted signs of blunt force trauma, but Mr Whitehead said: “It was not possible to confirm or exclude natural disease as a cause or contributor to death.”

Mr Whitehead said that from September 2018 to May 2020, Johnson also used Mr Wainwright’s bank card to buy goods and withdraw cash worth £17,000 and made 11 transfers to his bank account worth an additional £2,475.

Johnson initially admitted preventing a burial but denied fraud in May this year, before pleading guilty to the fraud offences in August.

Raglan Ashton, mitigating, said that Johnson had previously 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: “It gives some context as to why he carried on taking the money out of the account of Mr Wainwright.

“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.”

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.

“That was not what you did. 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.

“This is an offence which is so serious that the only appropriate punishment can be achieved by immediate custody.

“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.”

Johnson was jailed for two years for preventing a burial, and was given concurrent six-month sentences for each of the three fraud charges.