Guilty: Man who murdered wife at their Rush Green home weeks after taking out life insurance
PUBLISHED: 13:45 07 February 2019 | UPDATED: 14:26 07 February 2019
A manipulative man who strangled his wife and set light to her body after taking out more than £300,000 in life insurance has been found guilty of murder.
Serial adulterer Thomas Peter, 50, had throttled his job centre worker wife Karen in the past and took out the policy just weeks before the killing at the family home in Valentines Way, Rush Green, the Old Bailey was told.
The plasterer attacked 50-year-old Mrs Peter while their three children were at home on August 2 last year because he feared she had met someone new, jurors were told.
Gareth Patterson QC said he showed “not one ounce of compassion” for his wife of 24 years, who was just starting to grow in confidence after suffering years of his “controlling” behaviour.
Describing the murder, the prosecutor said: “He forced a flannel cloth deep into his wife’s mouth, possibly trying to silence her.
“With one or both hands he strangled his wife to death.
“After murdering her, and despite the presence of his daughters, he started at least two fires in the house. He set fire to his wife’s body and left it in a locked first floor bedroom.”
Their children, now aged 22, 20 and 14, were first alerted to their mother’s plight when they woke to a “muffled scream” coming from the bedroom, jurors heard.
Asked what was going on, Peter said she had gone out, even asking his children if they had done something to upset her, jurors heard.
The couple’s daughters called their mum’s mobile phone and became suspicious when they heard it ringing in the bedroom. They also found the front and back doors locked and her keys in the house.
Peter asked his children to put the bins out but they went upstairs to investigate after hearing the sound of something being dragged. He told them it was a suitcase and refused to open the door to the bedroom he was standing outside, saying he had lost the key.
One of the daughters then decided to call 999, but Peter demanded she hand over her phone. She managed to go outside and call the police at around 6.45am, saying “I think my mum’s been strangled”.
All three were outside when they saw smoke coming from their parents’ bedroom window, with one again calling 999 and another going inside to find out what was going on.
Peter tried to push her back down the stairs, dropping the keys to the bedroom. She grabbed them and tried to get into the locked room but Peter took them off her before she could do so.
They were interrupted by two refuse collectors who came running into the house to alert them to the fire and to get everybody out.
Peter told them nobody was in the house but his daughter said that Karen was in the bedroom.
One of the daughters also sought help from next door, with Peter telling the neighbour: “The kids are saying I’ve killed their mum, but I haven’t.”
He told the neighbour Karen had gone for a walk, and also told Karen’s parents the same thing when they arrived.
Firefighters were also told nobody was in the house but found Mrs Peter’s body heavily burned around the groin and thighs, with marks also to the head and neck.
The court heard there was evidence Mrs Peter had bitten her husband’s hand and a piece of skin was retrieved from her mouth.
Police officers at the scene walked Peter to a police car where he said that Karen had been “playing up recently” and had “changed”. He asked how his dog was but did not enquire after his wife or children. When arrested, he did not ask what had happened to Karen.
Peter denied murder and arson, saying his wife died in an accident.
That night, he said he had lit candles to “lighten the mood” before they argued and his wife kicked him to the knee.
The jury rejected his claims and unanimously found him guilty of murder and guilty of arson by a majority of 11 to one.
Mrs Peter’s family wept in court as the defendant was remanded into custody to be sentenced on Monday.
Speaking after the verdict, Det Sgt Perry Benton branded Peter an “evil man”.
He said: “This was a vicious and merciless murder carried out by Peter in the family home while his three daughters slept in nearby rooms. Peter’s actions were sustained and deliberate, he meant to kill Karen.
“He then callously set fire to her body and the house in a bid to destroy evidence, also putting his daughters’ lives at risk.
“He lied again and again as to his wife’s whereabouts and sought to prevent their daughters, the bin men, and the next door neighbour from intervening.
“Peter refused to admit his guilt and has selfishly forced his daughters to re-live that awful morning at trial.
“I cannot even begin to imagine what they are going through, but I would like to praise them for their immense courage and assistance throughout. I hope today’s verdict gives them some measure of comfort and closure.”
Det Sgt Benton added: “I would implore anyone who is suffering or knows of someone suffering domestic abuse to call police immediately.
“I know it can be difficult to take the first step and make the call, but your call will be treated in the strictest confidence and could ultimately save someone’s life.”