A “wicked” husband who strangled his estranged wife and set fire to her body when she was preparing to start a new life without him has been jailed for life.
Thomas Peter, 50, killed his wife of 24-years Karen in a rage at the family home in Romford before taking extreme measures to try to cover up the murder.
Karen, 50, a job centre worker, had told friends she had “met someone special” and was moving on from her violent and abusive marriage to Peter, ditching her wedding ring and getting a series of tattoos to represent her new-found freedom.
But she was murdered last August 2 by her estranged husband, who forced a cloth down her throat and then throttled her in the bedroom they used to share.
Peter then set fire to the home and Karen’s body - targeting the tattoos that he hated – and stopped the couple’s three daughters as they tried to save their mother from the flames.
The Old Bailey heard Peter had also taken out a £310,000 life insurance policy just a month before the murder, and would be the sole beneficiary in the event of her death.
Judge Richard Marks QC, the Common Serjeant of London, today jailed Peter for life with a minimum of 25 years, calling him “an arrogant, egotistical, chauvinistic and controlling bully”.
The judge said Peter had threatened and attacked his wife, regularly called her names, and had a string of affairs, telling him: “For a long time you treated Karen quite abysmally.”
Peter’s eldest daughter Imogen, 22, told the court today (mon) that even from behind bars her father has been blocked them from renovating the fire-damaged family home.
“What a twisted mentality you must have to want and be seeking to insist that your children now having to fend for themselves should have to continue to live in such terrible surroundings”, said the judge.
He added that Peter had “brought devastation on your children and parents in law as a result of your wicked and cruel behaviour”.
Peter sat in the dock with his head bowed as a statement from Imogen was read to the court.
“I find it hard to describe the devastation that blew our world apart on August 2”, she said.
“When they told us our mother’s body had been found inside the house time stood still, frozen, people talked but nothing made sense.”
She added: “We always thought of our dad as our protector, protecting us from the outside world, so it is ironic it was him we needed protecting from, and him who took mum from us.”
Karen’s mother Marjorie McDonald told the court she “watched helplessly” as her daughter died inside the burning home.
“This day will torture me forever”, she said.
The court heard Karen had married Peter in 1994, but he had a string of affairs since at least 2002 including with more than one woman at once.
Karen applied for a divorce in February 2010, citing her husband's adultery, but they continued to live together for the sake of their children and remarried in February 2012.
One of their daughters, Rhiannon, gave evidence at trial that Peter had repeatedly insulted his wife in front of their children, telling her: “No one would want you”.
“You said she was fat and a bad mother”, added the judge.
“A bad mother – what an outrageous lie that was. She was, as you well knew, an outstanding mother.”
The court heard Peter claimed Karen had “gone for a walk” after he had killed her, stopping his daughters, mother-in-law and neighbours from going to her aid.
He denied the charges but a jury found him guilty of murder and arson being reckless as to whether life was endangered.
Detective Sergeant Perry Benton, the Met’s investigating officer, said: "Peter is an evil man and I am delighted he has been convicted and jailed and will face the consequences of his heinous crime.
"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.
"Throughout this whole period, Peter did not demonstrate one ounce of compassion or concern for his wife or children.”