Inside the grubby flat where obsessed loner assembled ‘kidnap kit’ to murder Holly Willoughby

Inside a cramped, grubby two-bedroom flat filled with Ghostbusters memorabilia, Gavin Plumb hatched a plan.

He would kidnap, repeatedly rape and murder the object of his obsession – television personality Holly Willoughby – as he plotted to live out his ultimate celebrity fantasy.

But weighing in at almost 30 stone and having tried and failed to kidnap women twice before, he knew he could not do it alone.

So in the dark world of encrypted chat groups and online forums, where people shared details of their most sordid sexual obsessions under the cover of anonymity, he looked for like-minded individuals to join his “crew”.

In hundreds of depraved messages shown to the jury, many too graphic to be published, he set out in shocking detail to his potential accomplices how he would ambush the former This Morning presenter at her home and tie up her husband, before taking her to an abandoned building to abuse. Afterwards, he planned to slit her throat and dispose of her body.

It was here – chatting to a man he had met in a forum called “Abduct Lovers” – that he unwittingly revealed his plan to an undercover US police officer.

The officer was so concerned about the “immediate danger” facing the mother-of-three that he alerted the FBI, who contacted the UK authorities.

On Friday, Plumb was jailed for life for the “depraved and vile” plot. He must serve a minimum of 15 years and 85 days before he can be considered for parole.

Inside the flat in Harlow, Essex, where Plumb devised an elaborate plot to kidnap Holly Willoughby (Crown Prosecution Service)
Inside the flat in Harlow, Essex, where Plumb devised an elaborate plot to kidnap Holly Willoughby (Crown Prosecution Service)

But neighbours in Plumb’s suburban road in Harlow, Essex, where mothers and young children play on the green opposite his block of flats, had no idea the man living on the ground floor had been carefully assembling his “kidnap kit” – complete with knife, shackles, metal cable ties and chloroform to stupefy his victim.

Nor did they know he already had serious convictions for attacking women.

Flynn Greenslades, 18, said he rarely saw the “isolated” security guard, who was only ever spotted waiting for a taxi to take him to work.

“He was really isolated from everybody else,” he told The Independent. “He wasn’t really part of the community, I would say.

“The only time you would see him walk was from his flat to a cab. Other than that, he was just sat shut indoors with the curtains drawn.

“I remember when he got arrested and me and my girlfriend were walking down the road here. He was just in handcuffs being put in the back of the car.”

A mother with a newborn child living next door said she rarely heard anything from the other side of the wall – apart from when his team Liverpool FC were playing.

Holly Willoughby was the alleged victim of the plot (PA Archive)
Holly Willoughby was the alleged victim of the plot (PA Archive)

An elderly couple across the road revealed it was “frightening” to discover the man they would sometimes see smoking by his bins was plotting a sinister attack.

“There’s lots of children round this area,” the woman added.

He kept a similarly low profile at his last address too, it seems, telling jurors he spent “99.9 per cent” of his life online. A man who lived next door to him in a second-floor flat in a housing estate in Waltham Abbey said he had only seen him twice in almost two years, when he dropped him a Hermes parcel.

Giving evidence from a chair in the witness box, Plumb admitted the messages he exchanged about Ms Willoughby were “dark” but insisted it was only a fantasy.

Sasha Wass KC, defending, said he was an “isolated and lonely individual who lived out his fantasy life online”.

Although his messages were “vile and misogynistic”, his excessive weight prohibited from seeing through his plan, she claimed, repeatedly noting the “state of his dimensions” rendered the idea he could “hop” the outer wall of Ms Willoughby’s home all but impossible.

Plumb was arrested at his Harlow flat in October 2023 after the FBI contacted UK police (PA Media)
Plumb was arrested at his Harlow flat in October 2023 after the FBI contacted UK police (PA Media)

The former Pizza Hut worker had previously revealed in an interview with the BBC that he had been all but housebound for four years after his weight ballooned to 35st as he guzzled 36 pints of a cola a day, until he had NHS weightloss surgery in 2018.

He said the gastric sleeve operation was his last resort as his weight left him suffering chest pains and struggling with everyday tasks, adding: “My parents are absolutely fantastic. They come over and help tidy up – but I know they worry.”

At the time of his arrest last October, he estimated he weighed between 25-30st.

But this was not the first time Plumb had found himself in the dock for crimes against women.

Jurors were told how – aged 19 – he had tried to kidnap two Ryanair stewards on the Stansted Express as he travelled between car parks servicing ticket machines.

He passed a note to one victim, warning: “I will do anything, so keep quiet and get off with me at the next station. Otherwise I will shoot you and everyone on this train.”

Two days later he tried again, only this time he had an imitation firearm in his pocket.

After receiving a 12-month suspended sentence, he struck again two years later. By now in his early twenties and working in a shop, he held two 16-year-old girls in a stock warehouse – threatening them with a Stanley knife as he tried to tie them up.

A picture of an alleged ‘abduction kit’ gathered by Plumb (PA Media)
A picture of an alleged ‘abduction kit’ gathered by Plumb (PA Media)

Explaining the crimes to the jury, he acknowledged he did have a “stewardess” fantasy but insisted the attacks were a “cry for help” as he needed to escape a toxic relationship with his ex-partner.

He railed over his difficult teenage years as he struggled with his fluctuating weight, adding he was regularly in the “friend zone” and “nothing more”, only for his first serious relationship to become dysfunctional. He and the former partner now share two children, including a 15-year-old son.

Plumb also told the jury he had carried out internet searches of “what does it feel like to be raped?” in order to comfort a female friend who had been abused, but refused to tell the prosecutor who she was.

He was also adamant he had purchased two bottles marked chloroform to tackle a particularly stubborn stain on his living room carpet – with jurors shown pictures of a watermark on his dingy brown carpet in his cluttered living room.

Testing later discovered the bottles contained mostly ethanol and water after he purchased highly diluted concentrates from a homoeopathic website.

Plumb previously told jurors his alleged plans were a ‘fantasy’ (PA Wire)
Plumb previously told jurors his alleged plans were a ‘fantasy’ (PA Wire)

But Alison Morgan KC, prosecuting, hit back, branding him a “prolific liar” who had targeted real women in her closing remarks.

“He has terrified, subdued, threatened and detained real women against their will,” she said.

“He has carried weapons for that purpose. He has carried ropes for that purpose.

“Real people exist in the world now who were threatened and touched by this man and he was looking … to learn how to avoid those mistakes again.

“Looking to make sure that he didn’t fall into the errors that led to women being able to get away from him.”

Ms Morgan said the “boring detail” in Plumb’s online messaging as they discussed alleged stakeouts and logistics of carrying out an attack around his work schedule is “what tells you it’s real”.

One man – known as “Marc” – with whom Plumb shared hundreds of depraved messages about Ms Willoughby, claimed to have previously been jailed for stalking television presenters in Ireland.

In one message, he shared a news report from 2014 about a man who had been jailed for three and a half years for stalking a woman and later talking about raping her young son.

In another conversation about the star, Marc told Plumb: “True she’ll look good wearing a paper bag. And even dead.”

Details of Marc’s messages with Plumb have been passed to police in Dublin, Essex Police confirmed.

A spokesperson said: “An Garda Síochána has commenced a criminal investigation following information received from a UK Police Force through Interpol.

“As this is an ongoing investigation, An Garda Síochána is not confirming any further details.”