Until that fateful night during the London Riots, last year, Laura Johnson appeared every bit the privileged daughter of a millionaire businessman.
A straight-A student from one of the best schools in the country living in her parents £1million mansion, she had limitless opportunities.
But her decision to shun her respectable background and embrace an ‘exciting new world’ of cannabis, alcohol and violent gangster rap music, has left the 20-year-old's prospects in tatters.
Scroll down for video of Laura Johnson leaving court
Transformation: The image of a smiling schoolgirl, left, is in stark contrast to the grim-faced Laura Johnson, leaving Inner London Crown Court in London, on Wednesday, while the jury deliberated on its verdict
The strain of two weeks of evidence at her trial for taking part in a looting rampage, appears to have taken a heavy toll on the former grammar school prefect, who was described in court as having willingly take part in an ‘orgy of looting’.
Millionaire's daughter was 'sent inappropriate text' by police expert before she was due to give evidence
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Double rape made me turn to riot looter, says daughter of millionaire
The carefree smile of a girl with a bright future ahead, had long since vanished by the time the jury returned its guilty verdict.
The Exeter University student was visibly shaken when it dawned that she faced years in prison for acting as a chauffeur for a drug-dealing gangster and his friends as they pillaged electrical goods during a seven-hour crime spree.
Dressed demurely in a black pencil skirt and peach blouse, grim-faced Johnson stared blankly ahead, swaying slightly, as the two guilty verdicts were read out.
Future: A once beaming Laura Johnson, left, seen leaving Inner London Crown Court with her mother Lindsay following her conviction, right, is now facing years in prison
After the trial, a jury at Inner London Crown Court yesterday found Johnson guilty of burglary and handling stolen goods. The maximum sentence for handling is 14 years.
Judge Patricia Lees warned her and a 17-year-old accomplice, who cannot be named for legal reasons, to expect prison sentences.
She said: ‘You have been convicted of serious offences. These offences are aggravated by the fact they were committed within the timeframe of the civil unrest last summer in London.
‘This spree of burglaries and handling stolen goods that you both took a willing part in will attract most certainly in my mind the likelihood of a custodial sentence.’
After leaving the dock Johnson, who has mental health problems and has made numerous suicide attempts, wished reporters a ‘happy Easter’.
Her parents Robert and Lindsay, who have sat in court each day, refused to comment but her father, a 56-year-old company director, said he would consider an appeal.
Throughout the trial, Johnson claimed she had been terrified into driving convicted robber and ‘bad boy’ Emmanuel Okubote, 20, and his friends, with talk of guns and knives.
She said she had been virtually kidnapped and was acting entirely out of duress because the men were ‘not the sort of people you say no to’.
She also blamed her descent into lawlessness on being raped by two men in the weeks leading up to the riots – an allegation which went unreported to the police – and on having a complete mental breakdown after being dumped by her previous boyfriend.
CCTV shown to the jury of Laura Johnson at a petrol station on the night of August 8th 2011
Played in court: Laura inside the petrol station on the same night
Smiling: Jurors were shown a picture of Laura as she drove her car on the night of the looting
Johnson's mother and father, Lindsay and Robert, have attended the trial each day
But after almost 11 hours of deliberation, a jury of four women and eight men yesterday rejected this and agreed with the prosecution that Johnson, then 19, had been acting of her own free will as she joined hundreds of looters who ‘scurried like wild rats’.
The Exeter University student, who lives in her parents’ £1million country house in Orpington, Kent, had become infatuated with Okubote.
The court heard Laura wanted to protect boyfriend Emmanuel Okubote, 20
So desperate was she to please him that she drove him and two other balaclava-clad passengers as they looted branches of Currys and Comet in South-East London.
When she was arrested, Johnson revved the engine at police officers who said they ‘feared for their lives’. Inside her car they found a haul of cigarettes, alcohol and televisions and a ‘quantity’ of condoms in Johnson’s purse.
Earlier in the day she had been sending sexual and flirtatious texts to Okubote, whom she met through a friend in a mental health institute, saying how much she ‘missed’ the drug dealer.
Okubote is currently in Feltham Young Offenders Institution after being recalled for breaching his licence in relation to a 30-month conviction for possession of crack cocaine with intent to supply. He has previous convictions for robbery, burglary, theft, assault and possessing an imitation firearm.
He was charged with kidnap last August after a man accused him of throwing bleach in his face. But when the case came to trial in January the prosecution offered no evidence and a formal not guilty verdict was entered.
Johnson was convicted along with the 17-year-old of one count of burglary at Comet and one count of handling stolen goods at Currys but found not guilty of a third count of burglary or an alternative one of handling stolen goods at a BP petrol station. Her accomplice had previously pleaded guilty to burgling the BP petrol station. Johnson was granted bail and will be sentenced on May 3.
A third passenger, Alex Elliott-Joahill, 18, had pleaded guilty to charges of burglary and handling stolen goods.
The clever little rich girl seduced by a world of gangsters
BY NATALIE CLARKE
Conviction: Millionaire's daughter Laura Johnson leaving court last week
The way Laura Johnson presented herself in court – the head-girl manner, the impeccable vowels, the earnest delivery – made her seem like any other privileged young woman. And her upbringing would appear to support that view: Raised in affluence in a £1million home in Orpington, Kent, by her millionaire businessman father and his wife, she did well at grammar school and went on to study English and Italian at university.
Dig deeper into this respectable, middle-class background, however, and a more complicated – and disturbing – story emerges.
Her father Robert Johnson, it has been said, made his money running a direct marketing firm called Avongate in which his wife of 23 years, Lindsay, is also involved.
Yet an inspection of his business portfolio shows that, among other things, from 2005 until 2006 he was a director of Strictly Broadband, a porn video mail order company. And from 2008 until 2010 he was the ‘marketing director’ for another porn site.
His credentials as an upstanding businessman suddenly look rather less robust, though quite what 20-year-old Johnson makes of her father’s dealings remains unknown.
What is clear though is that by the time she entered her teenage years, Johnson had already developed a deep sense of inadequacy which went way beyond any routine teenage angst.
So convinced was she of her unattractiveness for example, that she carved the word ‘fat’ into her thigh with a blade.
These insecurities, however, did not stop her excelling at school. At the all-girl Newstead Wood School in Orpington, where she gained nine GCSEs at A grade, she was a quiet, studious and sensitive girl, a vegetarian who preferred meetings of the literary society to parties, and the granddaughter of a teacher.
At 16, she went to St Olave’s Grammar School – the fourth-best state school in the country – in Orpington, achieving four A*s at A-level.
Johnson, who has two brothers, Rory, 21, and Scott, 17, offered her services as a tutor in English and other subjects to younger children and was recalled by former head of year Joanne Upsdell as ‘a joy to teach’ and ‘immensely likeable’.
At St Olave’s, where she was appointed a prefect in her final year, Johnson met her first boyfriend, Rebyn Buleti, the son of a Romania-born mother and Iraq-born father, both lawyers.
Friends say the teenagers were so devoted to each other that they decided to go to the same university, Exeter, two years ago. Johnson studied English and Italian, while Rebyn studied law.
But their relationship appears to have become deeply troubled at some point soon after they started at university. Rebyn ended it ‘out of the blue’ in January 2011. Johnson was said to be heartbroken, and suffered a breakdown of sorts.
On six occasions after the split she took an overdose of pills, which may have been a suicide attempt or a cry for help, and she also needed hospital treatment after punching her hands through a window.
The leafy Johnson home in Orpington, in the south-east of London: Laura is likely to face jail-time at sentencing next month
In April last year, Johnson was referred to a mental health unit and placed on a six-week out-patient programme, where she was prescribed anti-depressants and sedatives to help her sleep.
And it was on this programme that a 20-year-old girl called Charlie Fryett came into Johnson’s life.
A working-class girl from Catford in South London, Miss Fryett hung out with a street gang from Bellingham – an area many would describe as the wrong end of Catford. There, Miss Fryett introduced Johnson to a new world of gangs and gangster rap, light years from the safety of her beginnings in a respectable Kent town.
Johnson was seemingly seduced by the dangers she encountered around her, and was soon drinking heavily and smoking cannabis.
Among the men in the gang she was introduced to was Emmanuel Okubote, who had recently been released from prison on parole after serving nine months of a two-and-a-half year sentence for possession of crack cocaine and cannabis with intent to supply.
Central to Johnson’s case was her relationship with 20-year-old Okubote, a convicted crack dealer who was one of the men she escorted in their rioting spree in her Smart car on August 8 last year.
In court Johnson insisted they were just friends, claiming she did not know his family, nor where he lived.
But her claims have been flatly contradicted by his family, who told the Daily Mail that Johnson was infatuated with Okubote, made all the running, and was most certainly having some sort of relationship with him.
According to Okubote’s sister, Olayemi, Johnson was a frequent visitor to Okubote’s home in Bellingham.
Okubote was charismatic – but he was also trouble. A long line of previous offences included theft, drug possession, burglary, assault and possession of an imitation firearm.
His ‘street’ name was Sylar, presumably in homage to the Sylar character in the television drama Heroes, a serial killer who targets ‘superhumans’ to steal their powers.
It would be easy to pigeonhole Okubote as a boy from a ‘problem’ family’. Yet his mother, Eunice, is a devout Christian, a youth worker and church leader at the Christ Faith Tabernacle Pentecostal church in nearby New Cross.
Grand: Prosecutor Sandy Canavan told the court Johnson had gone to a grammar school, had a nice background, was an Exeter University student and lives in this house in sunny Orpington, Kent
Above the front door of her end-of-terrace council house are the words ‘Jesus Army’.
As a teenager, Okubote showed academic promise and was studying accountancy at Highbury College in Portsmouth when he was arrested for dealing in crack cocaine.
He seems to have had a certain charm where women were concerned, and to an impressionable young woman such as Johnson, the combination of attentiveness and danger proved irresistible.
According to Charlie Fryett, both she and Johnson ‘fancied’ Okubote – but it was Johnson who caught his eye and they became friends.
Add into the mix the fact that Johnson claims to have been raped by two men two weeks before the London riots and the picture becomes more complicated. She did not report the rape, nor confide in anyone about it.
In fact the first person she told about it was forensic psychologist Dr Brian McKenzie, who interviewed Johnson after her arrest during the riots. She has said that Okubote was a pillar of strength and support to her following the rape, though under cross-examination in court, she insisted they were just friends.
That is not how his sister Olayemi remembers it, however. She says Johnson’s father wanted his daughter to blame Okubote for everything, in an attempt to avoid charges.
‘Emmanuel told me that, after Laura got arrested, her father wanted to know who she was going out with,’ she said.
‘He never went to Orpington – she always came here to see him. Her father found out about Emmanuel’s trouble in court on the internet, and wanted to blame it on him.
‘Laura told him that her dad was pressurising her to say it was all Emmanuel – which is wrong.’ Okubote’s family are angry at the way Johnson portrayed him in court, claiming he has never been violent towards women.
At the centre of the court case was exactly what happened on the night of August 8 last year, after Laura and Okubote met up at a Catford retail park.
She claimed he became threatening towards her, forcing her to drive him and three friends around Greenwich and Woolwich on a seven-hour looting spree from which they made off with televisions, alcohol and cigarettes.
Carnage: Johnson chauffeured Okubote and his friends for seven hours as they embarked on a looting rampage in the London riots
Johnson said didn’t protest because Okubote twice threatened her by putting his hands around her neck – and claimed she was further intimidated by the fact that another man in the car had a knife which he used to rob other looters and threaten passers-by. The jury was not convinced, however.
In the early hours, the car was stopped by police and Johnson was arrested.
A quantity of condoms were found in her bag after her arrest: In a not entirely convincing explanation, she said she’d been planning to see her ex-boyfriend that night, with whom she was still having sex.
Okubote’s family remain adamant that she had visited him often in the car used as a getaway vehicle during the looting spree, often waiting outside the house in it for him.
Olayemi said: ‘Laura would always be coming around here and waiting to drive Emmanuel around. She was infatuated with him, and he would play up to her. He had lots of girls, and always charms them by talking to them nicely.
‘She was definitely more into him than he was to her. She knew about his criminal past, he is well-known to people in Catford, but this seemed to make him more attractive to her.
‘They used to go over to my older sister’s house because my mother disapproved of what was going on and wouldn’t allow Laura in the house.’
Now the two-week trial has ended, leaving Johnson facing the prospect of spending a lengthy time behind bars, questions have been raised about why Okubote was not arrested or called as a witness.
He is now back in prison, recalled to serve the remainder of his sentence for possession with intent to supply, after committing another, unknown offence, while still on parole.
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