Willoughby says women should not be made to feel unsafe as plotter found guilty

TV presenter Holly Willoughby has said women “should not be made to feel unsafe … in our own homes” after a security guard was convicted of masterminding a plot to kidnap, rape and murder her.

The Dancing on Ice star thanked an undercover officer who helped foil Gavin Plumb’s plans and for understanding the “imminent threat” to her life.

Plumb developed an “obsession” with Ms Willoughby over a number of years and assembled an “abduction kit” – complete with handcuffs and metal cable ties – to help carry out his attack.

A jury at Chelmsford Crown Court dismissed the 37-year-old’s defence that his plans were a “mere fantasy”, agreeing with the prosecution that he was a “prolific liar who sought to minimise the extent of his criminality”.

The jury took 12 hours and 19 minutes to unanimously convict him of soliciting murder and inciting rape and kidnap.

As the verdicts were returned, Plumb slowly shook his head and stared at the floor of the dock.

He then began to weep as he was sent down to the cells, sniffling as he tried to hold back tears.

Gavin Plumb court case
Plumb was convicted of soliciting murder and inciting rape and kidnap at Chelmsford Crown Court (Essex Police/PA)

In a statement after the jury returned its verdicts, Ms Willoughby said: “As women we should not be made to feel unsafe going about our daily lives and in our own homes.

“I will forever be grateful to the undercover police officer who understood the imminent threat, and to the Metropolitan and Essex police forces for their swift response.

“Thank you to the Crown Prosecution Service, the Rt Hon Mr Justice Murray, Alison Morgan KC, the members of the jury and all involved in this case for ensuring that justice was done and that the defendant will not be able to harm any more women.

“I would also like to commend the bravery of his previous victims for speaking up at the time. Without their bravery this conviction may not have been possible.”

Plumb, who adopted the user name Big Bear to chat to others about his plot online, appeared to formulate his fantasy as early as 2011 – googling the phrase “how to meet people who plan to kidnap celebs”.

During the trial, jurors were taken through a lengthy “sequence of events” document, which displayed Plumb’s “appalling messages” to others about what he would do to the Dancing On Ice presenter.

His plans were foiled when one of his potential accomplices, who went by the name of David Nelson, turned out to be an undercover officer from the Owatonna Police Department in the US state of Minnesota.

Holly Willoughby in a red dress
Holly Willoughby was the intended victim of Plumb’s kidnap, rape and murder plot (Ian West/PA)

Plumb told Mr Nelson he was “definitely serious” about his plot to kidnap Ms Willoughby, leaving the officer with the impression that there was an “imminent threat” to her.

Evidence was passed to the FBI and the defendant was arrested at his flat in Harlow, Essex, on October 4 last year, where he told officers: “I’m not gonna lie, she is a fantasy of mine.”

In a statement released after Plumb was found guilty, Essex Police thanked Ms Willoughby, who the force said had “courageously supported this case throughout and bravely waived her anonymity”.

The TV star waived her right to anonymity in connection with the charge against Plumb of assisting or encouraging rape.

Alleged victims of sex offences or targets of sex offence conspiracies have a right to automatic anonymity for life from the moment an allegation is made by them or anyone else.

His kidnap plans involved attempting to “ambush” Ms Willoughby at her family home – even discussing taking time off work in order to organise the attack.

Items of an 'abduction kit'
Plumb had assembled an ‘abduction kit’ to help him carry out the attack (Crown Prosecution Service/PA)

Plumb told others he would then take the presenter to another location, which he suggested would be a “dungeon” type room. The jury was told he checked out an abandoned stud farm with cells to “keep” Ms Willoughby.

The defendant’s messages showed how he planned to rape her at the location before killing her and then putting her “into a lake at night”.

Prosecutors described Plumb’s plot as “carefully planned” – pointing to the items he had purchased and the lengths to which he had gone to find out when Ms Willoughby did not have security.

In her opening to the jury, prosecutor Alison Morgan KC told the court of his previous convictions for false imprisonment and attempted kidnap, saying that they showed he “knew what it would take to terrify and overpower a woman”.

At the end of the trial, Ms Morgan highlighted the obvious flaws in Plumb’s defence – saying the “boring details” of his plans were not “sexy or gratifying”.

Plumb told jurors that bottles of chloroform he had purchased were to clean a carpet stain and that he had bought a BDSM kit, including a set of handcuffs, in 2014 “to rekindle my relationship with my ex-partner”.

Gavin Plumb in handcuffs as he is arrested
The defendant told officers ‘I’m not gonna lie, she is a fantasy of mine’ as he was arrested at his flat last year (Essex Police/PA)

He said he had read articles on “what it’s like to be raped” in 2021 in order to help a female friend, and did not initially hand over his phone’s pin number to officers because he had previously had “problems” with the police.

The defendant also relied on his “between 25-30 stone” weight as a defence – claiming that it would not be possible for him to “jump” over Ms Willoughby’s garden wall, as he had outlined in his messages.

He told jurors his online chats were “massively regrettable” and that he was “heartbroken, disgusted and shocked” that they had come out.

Speaking after Plumb was convicted, Detective Chief Inspector Greg Wood said: “Gavin Plumb is a dangerous, predatory individual who was intent on causing the most serious harm to his victim.

“He was not just simply obsessed with Holly Willoughby, he meticulously and carefully planned, over a number of years, to carry out a depraved and violent attack, in which he plotted to deprive her of her liberty and ultimately her life.

“His claims in court that he was a fantasist are simply not true and were evidenced by the extent with which he plotted with others to carry out his wicked plan.”

The prosecution will be applying for a restraining order and a sexual harm prevention order at the security guard’s sentencing hearing, the court heard.

Plumb will be sentenced at the same court on Friday July 12.