Jailed for life: Controlling man who murdered wife and set fire to her body

Thomas Peter has been convicted of murder. Picture: Met Police

Thomas Peter has been convicted of murder. Picture: Met Police - Credit: Met Police

A murderer who strangled his wife in the family home before setting fire to her body, all while their daughters were indoors, has been jailed for life with a minimum term of 25 years.

Karen Peter. Picture: Met Police

Karen Peter. Picture: Met Police - Credit: Met Police

Serial adulterer Thomas Peter, 50, was convicted of murder at the Old Bailey on Thursday.

He had strangled his job centre worker wife Karen at the family home in Valentines Way, Rush Green, on August 2 last year, because he feared she had met someone new.

Peter had taken out a life insurance policy worth more than £300,000 just weeks before killing his 50-year-old wife, who jurors were told had suffered years of his “controlling” behaviour.

Sentencing him, Judge Richard Marks QC said Peter was “an arrogant, egotistical chauvinistic controlling bully” who treated his wife “abysmally”.

He said: “Karen must have suffered an agonising death in her own home as you squeezed the life out of her.”

The court heard couple’s daughters, aged 22, 20 and 14, were first alerted to their mother’s plight when they woke to a “muffled scream” coming from the bedroom.

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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.

A jury rejected his version of events, unanimously finding him guilty of murder and guilty of arson by a majority of 11 to one.

Peter was also handed a seven year sentence for arson to run concurrently.

Kerim Fuad QC, mitigating, said: “It is so very sad that a relationship that started so long ago, that began full of promise, love and laughter, which bore three bright and lovely children, should end in such a devastating and ugly fashion.”

He said the daughters had not just lost their mother, but had also lost their father, adding: “It is likely he will die in prison.”