Taxi driver jailed for life over brutal killing in Harrogate

Gemma Simpson
Gemma Simpson

A taxi driver who admitted the brutal killing of a young woman in Harrogate more than a decade ago has today been jailed for life.

Martin Bell was told he must serve a minimum of 12 years in prison over the death of Gemma Simpson, who disappeared in May 2000.

NADV Martin Bell

NADV Martin Bell

A judge told Bell he had maintained a “callous silence” since the killing which sparked a major missing person investigation.

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 Simpson, from Harehills, was 23 when she vanished in May 2000, sparking a major missing person investigation.

Scene at Brimham Rocks

Scene at Brimham Rocks

It’s now emerged that she was killed on the day she disappeared, hit with a hammer, stabbed and drowned by Bell who submerged her body in bath water for four days in case she awoke.

Bell was hearing voices and suffering psychotic delusions at the time of the killing, later telling police he thought God wanted him to do it.

He went on to saw off her lower legs to fit her body in a hire car, wrapping her up in a sleeping bag which he secured with chains and a padlock in case she escaped.

Bell, who covered up the crime by painting his flat, had only admitted what he had done this summer when, overcome with remorse, he walked into a police station in Scarborough and confessed.

He appeared at Leeds Crown Court this week to deny her murder, admitting manslaughter instead on the grounds of diminished responsibility.

The court heard that two different doctors had assessed him, finding that he was suffering psychotic delusions at the time of the killing and believed in witches.

In a statement released after today’s hearing, Gemma’s family said they will never come to terms with what happened to her.

“Gemma was a young woman in the prime of her life who raised a smile and lit up every room she entered,” they said.

“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 mystery solved - what happened to Gemma?

Gemma Simpson was 23 years old when she went missing in Leeds.

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.

Instead, 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 this summer 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.”