Warning: Contains graphic acts of violence

Murder of Kelly Anne Bates

Kelly Anne Bates (c. 1979 – 16 April 1996) was an English teenager who was murdered in Manchester on 16 April 1996 when aged 17. She was tortured over a period of four weeks, including having her eyes gouged from their sockets up to three weeks before her death, by her partner James Patterson Smith (born c. 1948) before being drowned in a bathtub.

The murder inquiry was headed by Detective Sergeant Joseph Monaghan of Greater Manchester Police, who said: “I have been in the police force for 15 years and have never seen a case as horrific as this.” William Lawler, the pathologist who examined Bates’ body, described her injuries as “the worst he had seen on a murder victim”. Smith, a misogynist with a history of violence and torture against former lovers, denied murdering Bates but was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment on 19 November 1997

Background

James Smith was an unemployed divorcee living in Gorton, Manchester. Described by acquaintances as “house-proud and well-groomed”, he was a teetotaller and non-smoker. His marriage had ended after ten years in 1980 due to his violence towards his wife. He had then commenced an affair between 1980–1982 with 20-year-old Tina Watson, whom he “used as a punch-bag”, even subjecting her to severe beatings while she was pregnant with his child. Watson managed to escape from the relationship, during which Smith had also attempted to drown her while she was bathing. In 1982 Smith then began a statutory rape relationship with 15-year old Wendy Mottershead, who was also a victim of his violence. In one attack he held her head under water in the kitchen sink in an attempt to drown her.

In 1993, Smith began another statutory rape relationship with Kelly Bates while she was only 14 years old. Approximately two years later, when she left school, Bates moved in with Smith at his home in Furnival Road, Gorton. She had concealed the relationship from her parents. Bates’ mother said of her first meeting with Smith after the two began living together: “As soon as I saw Smith the hairs on the back of my neck went up. I tried everything I could to get Kelly Anne away from him.”

Although she had left Smith briefly because of arguments, in November 1995 she was once more living with him in Furnival Road. Her parents had noticed bruising which she explained away as the results of accidents. She became increasingly withdrawn and in December 1995 resigned from her part-time job. In March 1996 her parents received cards purportedly from her for their anniversary and a birthday, although only Smith had written in them. When Bates’ brother tried to see her at the house, Smith said she was not at home. When a concerned neighbour asked after her, she was briefly shown at an upstairs window

Murder

On 17 April 1996 Smith presented at a police station and said that he had accidentally killed his girlfriend during an argument in the bath, claiming that she had inhaled bathwater and died despite his attempts to resuscitate her. Police attended Smith’s address and found Bates’ naked body in a bedroom. Bates’ blood was found in every room of the house, and a post-mortem examination revealed over 150 separate injuries on her body. During the last month of her life she had been kept bound in the house, sometimes tied by her hair to radiators or chairs, and at other times with a ligature around her neck. William Lawler, the Home Office pathologist who examined her body, said: “In my career, I have examined almost 600 victims of homicide but I have never come across injuries so extensive.” The injuries included:

  • scalding to her buttocks and left leg;

  • burns on her thigh caused by the application of a hot iron;

  • fractured arm;

  • multiple stab wounds caused by knives, forks and scissors;

  • stab wounds inside her mouth;

  • crush injuries to both hands;

  • mutilation of her ears, nose, eyebrows, mouth, lips and genitalia;

  • wounds caused by a spade and pruning shears;

  • both eyes gouged out;

  • later stab wounds to the empty eye sockets;

  • partial scalping.

The pathologist determined that her eyes had been removed “not less than five days and not more than three weeks before her death”. She had been starved, losing around 20 kg in weight, and had not received water for several days before her death. Peter Openshaw, the prosecutor in Smith’s trial, said: “It was as if he deliberately disfigured her, causing her the utmost pain, distress and degradation … The injuries were not the result of one sudden eruption of violence, they must have been caused over a long period [and] were so extensive and so terrible that the defendant must have deliberately and systematically tortured the girl.” The cause of death was drowning, immediately prior to which she had been beaten about the head with a shower head. Openshaw said: “Her death must have been a merciful end to her torment”

Trial

Smith denied murder and claimed Bates “would put me through hell winding me up”. He also claimed that Bates had “taunted him” about his dead mother and had “a bad habit of hurting herself to make it look worse on me”. When asked to explain why he had blinded, stabbed and battered Bates, he said she had dared him to do it, challenging him to do her harm.

A jury at Manchester Crown Court took one hour to find 49-year-old Smith guilty of Bates’ murder. Sentencing him to life imprisonment the judge, Mr. Justice Sachs, recommended that Smith should serve a minimum term of 20 years. He stated: “This has been a terrible case; a catalogue of depravity by one human being upon another. You are a highly dangerous person. You are an abuser of women and I intend, so far as it is in my power, that you will abuse no more.”

The jury was provided with professional counselling to help them deal with the distress of seeing the photographs of Bates’ injuries and the “sickening violence” of the case