Rush Green fire: Man accused of murdering wife took out life insurance weeks before her death, court hears
PUBLISHED: 14:36 22 January 2019
A "controlling and manipulative" man strangled his wife then set fire to her body after taking out £310,000 of life insurance, a court has heard.
Plasterer Thomas Peter, 50, had allegedly throttled job centre worker Karen in the past and was a serial adulterer, the Old Bailey heard.
Fearing she had met someone new, he allegedly killed his 50-year-old spouse at their house in Valentines Way, Rush Green.
Gareth Patterson QC told jurors he showed “not one ounce of compassion” for her or their three children who were at home at the time.
The prosecutor told how Peter, who denies murder and arson, took out life insurance just weeks before his wife of 24 years died.
The defendant had asked for a maximum £310,000 payout in the event of either his or her death, jurors were told.
Mr Patterson said: “He knew he stood to make £310,000 if his wife died. He also stood to be the 100 per cent beneficiary of her occupational pension.”
Describing the night of her death, Mr Patterson said: “In the early hours of August 2 last summer, the defendant attacked his wife Karen Peter in the house while their three daughters were present elsewhere in the house.
“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 were first alerted to their mother’s plight when they woke to a “muffled scream” coming from the bedroom, jurors heard.
When asked what was going on, Peter allegedly said she had gone out, even asking his children if they had done something to upset her, jurors heard.
On moving his wife’s body into another bedroom and locking the door, he claimed it was a suitcase, the court was told.
When firefighters got into the house, they found Mrs Peter’s body heavily burned around the groin and thighs, with marks also to the head and neck, jurors were told.
The court heard there was evidence Mrs Peter had bitten her husband’s hand, and a piece of skin was retrieved from her mouth.
Mr Patterson described the couple’s troubled relationship, with keen horserider Mrs Peter citing adultery when she divorced her husband in 2010.
But she continued living with “controlling and manipulative” Peter and refused to press charges after he allegedly squeezed her neck so much she could not breathe, jurors heard.
In 2012, they remarried and Peter later allegedly became suspicious she was seeing someone else.
Mr Patterson said: “She had begun to grow in confidence. She told a friend she had met someone special. The defendant became suspicious. He asked her if she had been seeing someone else.
“By this time he had been having extramarital affairs for years.”
The lawyer told the court Mrs Peter was killed the day before she was planning a night out with friends.
He said: “By then the defendant knew that Karen was growing in confidence. He knew she was asserting her independence.
“The tragedy of this case is she never got to restart her life in the way she was planning.”
The trial continues.