Carer, 53, jailed after he kept friend's body in freezer for two years
Carer Damion Johnson, 53, who kept his friend’s body in a freezer for two years because he was ‘overcome with grief’ after his death and ‘not ready to let go’ is jailed
- Damion Johnson, 52, hid body of John Wainwright in big freezer ordered online
A carer who hid the body of the pensioner he lived with in a freezer for two years because he was ‘overcome with grief’ was jailed this afternoon for two years.
Damion Johnson, 52, hid the body of John Wainwright in a chest freezer he ordered online and had delivered to the tower block where they lived, a judge was told.
A court heard the pair had a ‘father-and-son relationship’, with Johnson telling friends and relatives the 71-year-old had died either ‘in hospital’ or ‘in bed’, and that the funeral had already been held.
But in reality the body of former council manager Mr Wainwright lay ‘hunched’ in the 2ftX3ft freezer in the guest bedroom of the housing association flat in central Birmingham – and Johnson never sought to obtain a death certificate or inform the authorities of his passing.
Associates of both Johnson and Mr Wainwright have told the Mail that Johnson and Mr Wainwright had been in a long-term gay relationship, although no reference was made to this in court.
Derby Crown Court heard Mr Wainwright’s decomposing skeleton was only discovered in August 2020 when the freezer was taken to a recycling centre when the flat was finally cleared.
Carer Damion Johnson (pictured), 52, who hid the body of the pensioner he lived with in a freezer for two years because he was ‘overcome with grief’ was jailed today for two years
Johnson (pictured) hid the body of John Wainwright in a chest freezer he ordered online and had delivered to the tower block where they lived, a judge was told
Prosecutor Darron Whitehead said the sports-car driving pensioner is thought to have died, and been placed in the freezer, in September 2018.
READ MORE: Man, 53, who kept a pensioner’s body in his freezer for almost two years pleads guilty to using his bank cards
But despite a succession of visits to the flat by various officials, including police, in the intervening months for a number of different reasons, the appliance was not opened until it reached the recycling centre. There to the ‘horror’ of a worker, Mr Wainwright’s body was found ‘curled up in a ball’ tucked beneath a bin liner.
Johnson, who the court heard has mental health difficulties, told police he had put the body in the freezer after feeling unable to part with the body or report the death.
Mr Whitehead said a post mortem examination on the body found Mr Wainwright had sustained neck fractures and had five missing teeth, which could be signs of ‘blunt force trauma to the mouth’. But he said ‘significant natural disease’ could not be excluded due to the decomposition of the body.
Darron Whitehead, prosecuting, said the defendant and victim took on the tenancy for the 19th floor flat in Cleveland Tower in 2015, with Johnson acting has his carer.
The court heard Johnson successfully applied for carers allowance in October that year, claiming to be Mr Wainwright’s son, because the pensioner had mobility issues after suffering two strokes – and continued claiming it until the body was discovered.
The court heard he fraudulently obtained £19,000 in total, having also continued to use Mr Wainwright’s debit card for shopping trips and to withdraw money, and also make cash transfers.
A close friend continued to visit the flat until December 2019, and even stayed over –sleeping in the same room as the freezer containing Mr Wainwright’s body. But the friend, who told police he had last seen Mr Wainwright in August 2018, said he had never opened the chest.
The court heard that in October 2019 the housing association wrote to Johnson over a water leak being suffered by the flat below, but he claimed he could not help sort out a repair because he was dealing with his ‘father’ being in hospital. He eventually told the housing association his father had died, but failed to supply the requested death certificate.
Mr Whitehead said Johnson was arrested on an unrelated matter in December 2019 but the court heard that although police visited the flat, they did not search it.
Johnson went on to move in with his brother, and the flat ended up being boarded up, with the freezer and some of his other possessions remaining inside. They were not checked for almost another year.
The prosecutor said during that time a neighbour reported ‘a horrendous smell’ coming from the property and that, in August 2020, a gas engineer went to carry out checks and reported the same issue.
The same month, a removals firm was called in to clear the flat, but although one of the removal men was almost sick as a result of the smell, they didn’t open the unplugged freezer either, assuming decomposing food was inside.
Johnson (pictured), who the court heard has mental health difficulties, told police he had put the body in the freezer after feeling unable to part with the body or report the death.
The court heard the appliance was only opened when it was dropped off at a skip and recycling centre in Exhall, near Coventry. Police were then called.
Johnson was arrested and told officers he did not report Mr Wainwright’s death because he had been overcome with grief. He said he put the pensioner’s body in the freezer because he was ‘not ready to say goodbye’.
He told officers he had known Mr Wainwright for 27 years and saw him as a father figure. He said Mr Wainwright had dementia, but that no diagnosis had been obtained.
Johnson pleaded guilty to preventing the lawful and decent burial of a dead body between September 1, 2018 and August 22, 2020 and three counts of fraud in relation to spending and withdrawing money on Mr Wainwright’s debit card, and bank transfers from his account.
Raglan Ashton, mitigating, said Johnson had worked as a carer and had paid his salary into the deceased account, with it acting as a ‘joint’ facility.
Jailing Johnson, now of Derby, for two years, 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.
But he said it was ‘an offence which is a serious affront to public standards of decency’, adding: ‘You and Mr Wainwright lived in an ordinary and pleasant relationship.
‘He passed away and had you gone about this in a normal way he would have had a good and decent burial. But that’s not what you did. You bought a chest freezer, that was a deliberate act and you knew what you were going to do.
‘You put him in there in 2018 and you left him there…and during that time you were helping yourself to his money.’
Mr Wainwright grew up in Coventry, where he worked as a manager for a community warden scheme run by the city council.
A friend said he was known for his fastidious dress sense and was ‘a likeable guy, very popular’.
After retiring, the classical music enthusiast moved to the flat with Johnson in a Birmingham tower block on the edge of the city’s Gay Village.
The friend added: ‘I last spoke to John in July 2018. He was in good health as far as I knew. We were shocked and upset when we found out he had passed away.’
A former flatmate of Johnson’s in Derby 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.
‘From what I can recall, he said that John was a council worker but he was retired.’
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