First-class maths graduates Poppy Devey Waterhouse and Joe Atkinson seemed the perfect match – an academically gifted golden couple with the world at their feet.
The Nottingham University sweethearts shared a smart flat in Leeds as glittering careers beckoned, and indulged their love of travel.
Poppy proudly charted their three-year romance on her Instagram page, with stunning photographs taken against exotic backdrops from all over the world.
In almost every picture, Joe’s arm is draped protectively around the shoulder of ‘brilliant and beautiful’ Poppy, whose dazzling smile lights up her face.
Joe Atkinson, 25, and Poppy Devey Waterhouse, 24, documented their travels together in smiling social media posts
The attack took place after Atkinson (left) arrived back from his work Christmas party, with the victim (right) suffering more than 100 separate injuries
Who, looking at them, could have predicted that just months after celebrating Joe’s 25th birthday abroad in April last year, Poppy, 24, would be stabbed 49 times in a brutal murder by her seemingly devoted boyfriend?
Yesterday, there was no trace of that tanned, laid-back young man from their travels in the dock of Leeds Crown Court as he was sentenced to life, with a minimum tariff of 16 years and two months.
Dressed in a smart suit, white shirt and blue tie, and with his blond hair neatly parted, he showed no emotion as Mr Justice Lavender told him: ‘You ended her life and brought misery to the lives of many others.’
Poppy’s devastated family quietly sobbed as the court heard how Atkinson, unable to cope with the end of their relationship, attacked her as she lay sleeping in bed.
Poppy, originally from Frome in Somerset, had joined Yorkshire-born Atkinson in Leeds after securing a job as a quantitative trading analyst with bookmakers William Hill.
Together they moved into their first home as young professionals – an executive flat in Saxton Gardens, a gated complex in the Richmond Hill area of the city.
In December 2017, Poppy posted a picture on social media of the interior, furnished with trendy grey sofas and red cushions, with the caption: ‘After six hours in Ikea, it’s starting to look like home.’
But ten months later, last October, the relationship fizzled out and they agreed to split and date other people.
Poppy’s brother Zeb (centre), her father Rupert Waterhouse (right) and her mother Julie Devey (left) arrive at Leeds Crown Court today
Atkinson and Miss Devey Waterhouse on a trip to the Grand Canyon in Arizona, United States
They had continued to share the flat – sleeping in separate bedrooms – until Poppy’s planned moving-out date of December 17.
It had all been quite amicable, until Atkinson bumped into Poppy and her new boyfriend on a night out in Leeds and jealously punched the other man.
Then, returning home drunk from a work Christmas party at around 3am on Friday December 14 last year, Atkinson launched an unprovoked attack on Poppy, ‘fuelled by his raging jealousy’.
Seizing a kitchen knife, he rained blows on his ex-girlfriend as she desperately tried to defend herself and escape from him. Until that moment, the court heard, Atkinson had never once been violent or abusive to Poppy.
To compound her family’s suffering, the court heard that Poppy lay dead for hours as Atkinson tried to cover his tracks. After washing the blood from his hands, at 5.40am he drove to a remote part of Leeds to dispose of his clothes and the murder weapon, which has never been recovered.
Placing a different knife near Poppy’s body, he called his father Andrew and tearfully confessed he had stabbed her, claiming he’d acted in self-defence. He said they rowed and Poppy had been the first to attack him with a knife.
In court yesterday, his defence barrister, Richard Wright QC, said these were lies told by a man ‘scared’ of the consequences of his actions which were a ‘complete and utter aberration’.
At 8.40am, on the advice of his father, Atkinson called an ambulance. Poppy was declared dead at 9.03am.
Paramedics and police arrived to find a bloodbath, with Poppy’s footprints trailing from the bedroom to where she collapsed.
Joe and Poppy had shared a flat together in Leed (police pictured outside the building)
Miss Devey-Waterhouse and Atkinson are pictured together during a trip to San Francisco in March 2017
Atkinson lied to them that it was all Poppy’s fault, saying ‘Things would have been all right if she had not been aggressive.’
And despite expressing deep remorse for his ‘irrational’ actions yesterday, Atkinson was unable to fully explain why he acted so savagely.
The court heard Poppy’s parents felt compassion for Atkinson’s family for the loss the man they thought incapable of violence.
For both Poppy and Atkinson came from good families, raised by loving parents, in beautiful parts of the country. Each worked hard, excelling at school, winning top honours at university, and master’s degrees.
Friends of Poppy Devey Waterhouse describe a remarkable young woman, who was not only highly intelligent, but kind and generous, blessed with a strong social conscience.
Colleagues at William Hill, which hired her after she scored 100 per cent in selection tests, recall how she helped form a volunteering and fundraising committee at work, sacrificing her own time ‘to give something back’.
She enjoyed an idyllic childhood in Frome with parents Rupert and Julie – who separated two years ago – and a younger brother, Leeds University graduate Zebedee, 22.
Home was a handsome, yellow brick, four-bed detached £825,000 Victorian house in one of the town’s most sought-after areas. In a moving victim impact statement, Julie Devey, a deputy registrar, tearfully told the court: ‘I have no idea what the future holds without Poppy.
‘I have saved all her Instagram posts, everything she ever wrote, images she had specially chosen to document her life, her smiling face. I can’t get my head around the image of someone so vibrant not being here any more.’
She described a child so bright, she could read before starting school and was moved up a year. Poppy achieved nine A*s and three As in her GCSEs and A*s in A-level maths and further maths – as well as an A in law.
Jack Caslake, 24, who attended Trinity Primary School and Frome Community College with Poppy, said: ‘She was just a really nice girl without a bad bone in her body.’
A friend, who asked not to be named but has known Poppy’s family for more than 15 years, said she was ‘simply the most wonderful, genuine, happy person’ she had met.
Miss Devey-Waterhouse achieved 9 A*s and 3 As in her GCSEs, as well as 2 A*s and 1 A at A-level
The couple were keen travellers who shared photos from their trips abroad to countries such as Morocco, Lithuania and Greece
She added: ‘Poppy had the face of an angel. She was such a warm, gentle, kind person and she always seemed to be smiling. She could light up a room when she walked in. Not in an ostentatious or loud and showy way, but quietly because she was so positive and you just took an instant liking to her.’
Poppy also excelled at sports – playing football with Frome Town Ladies Under-16s and teaching tennis to youngsters at the local club every Saturday morning for six years.
At secondary school, she won sports personality of the year twice and wanted to study sports studies at university, before deciding on maths.
Sandra Docherty, membership secretary at Frome Selwood Tennis Club, where the family often played, said: ‘Poppy was as beautiful and as wonderful as everybody describes her. She was just lovely, as is her mum and her whole family. You couldn’t have found a nicer person than Poppy. It’s just terrible. She worked very hard to get to where she got to.’
In his victim impact statement, Poppy’s brother, struggling to contain his emotion as he looked at Atkinson, said: ‘Never before have I felt hate like this. Never before have I felt guilt, guilt at not appreciating my sister more, of not telling her how much I loved her and seeing her as often as I should have.’ Her father Rupert Waterhouse told the court they had welcomed Atkinson into their family with open arms, never imagining he would ever harm Poppy.
‘She was vibrant, filling the room with life and light,’ he said, describing the morning she died as ‘Day Zero’ for him and his family.
‘I woke up on Friday 14th thinking ‘it’s not the 13th, so nothing bad is going to happen’. Julie had to be carried to my front door to tell me our Poppy was dead. She was killed by the man she loved and lived and felt safe with until her last few moments.
Poppy Devey Waterhouse is pictured with her younger brother Zeb, who gave an emotional impact statement to the court today
Leeds Crown Court heard how Atkinson was ‘fuelled by jealousy’ when he burst into their shared flat in Leeds and repeatedly stabbed Poppy (pictured together) on December 14
‘When she needed me most in her life, I wasn’t there. I could not save her … this is my life sentence. We are now a family of four minus one, and I will never see my daughter get married or hold her children. I just want my daughter back.’
Before she left home for university, no one could recall Poppy having a really serious boyfriend prior to Atkinson.
He lived with his mother Heather in the historic market town of Wetherby, West Yorkshire, after his parents’ marriage broke up when he was a young teenager.
A pupil at Wetherby High School, he was just 18 when his mother, who worked for the British Library in Boston Spa for 30 years, died in July 2011 from cancer at the age of 50.
A resident in the street where mother and son lived in a small red-brick semi from 2007 until 2011 said: ‘I’d always get a hello from Heather and Joe, but they seemed to like their privacy and didn’t say much to anyone really.
‘They were very loving and close. Joe was a bright, quiet boy.’
Heather spent her final days in St Gemma’s Hospice, near Leeds, and the house was sold following her death. ‘Losing his mum must have hit Joe very hard indeed,’ the neighbour added. ‘I think it must have been hard concentrating on his A-levels with the stress of his mum’s illness.’
The court heard a report by forensic psychiatrist Dr John Kent suggested suppressed emotion over his mother’s death may have caused Atkinson to lose control on the night of the murder.
Atkinson was handed a minimum sentence of 15 years after pleading guilty to the murder of his ex-girlfriend Poppy Devey Waterhouse
‘When he lost his mother to cancer when we was 18, he never grieved properly and coped by focusing on study,’ said his barrister. Following his loss, Atkinson appeared to have found lasting happiness with Poppy. Both were academically brilliant and loved travel.
In 2017, Poppy announced on social media they were off on a ‘make or break’ six-month tour of the Americas, which she faithfully recorded on Instagram.
In one photo they can be seen marvelling at the Grand Canyon in Arizona; in another cycling in San Francisco with the Golden Gate Bridge in the background.
In California, they pose behind the Hollywood sign, spelled out in white 45ft letters in the Santa Monica Mountains.
On to South America, where they stand before the Iguazu Falls on the Argentinian border – according to Poppy the ‘coolest place we’ve been so far’ – and enjoy a beer at Brazil’s Maracana football stadium in Rio.
In Mendoza, they sample Argentinian wine, while in Bolivia they lark around on the country’s largest salt flat Salar de Uyuni. In Peru, they trek through the Colca Canyon and climb Rainbow Mountain.
‘Six months survived and still smiling,’ Poppy wrote on their return, posting an airport picture of them arriving home tanned.
Last year they were off again, to Europe and North Africa this time, taking in Belgium, Denmark, Sweden, Lithuania, Morocco and the Greek island of Santorini.
But, as with many young couples, the relationship fizzled out as they pursued their careers – although Poppy clearly hoped to stay friends. She’d been planning to run a half marathon in Leeds next month to raise money for the hospice which had cared for Joe’s late mother.
Instead, ‘Team Poppy’ – her father, brother and nine work colleagues – will run in her memory. Proceeds will also go to Martin House, a children’s hospice in Leeds.
On his JustGiving page, which has already exceeded its £2,000 target, Rupert Waterhouse reproduces words written by the friends who have been left ‘shocked and saddened’ by her murder.
‘Poppy was a wonderfully bright and joyful person, with an adventurous spirit, always keen to visit new places, meet new people, and experience new things.’
They continue: ‘Our inspiration is someone that brought out the best in all of us, forever encouraging us to do something out of our comfort zone, and motivating us to be better versions of ourselves.’
What a tragedy that Poppy was robbed of the chance to fulfill her potential by the man she had loved.