A jealous husband who strangled his estranged wife to death and set fire to her body after taking out a £300,000 life insurance policy was jailed for at least 25 years.
Thomas Peter, 50, forced a cloth down Karen Peter’s throat to silence her cries for help before throttling her at their semi-detached home in Romford, east London.
He was enraged after learning that the mother-of-three had finally had enough of his years of violence and affairs and about to start a new life with her lover.
The job centre worker, also 50, had recently ditched her wedding and engagement rings, got a number of tattoos and told friends she had ‘met someone special’.
Just a month before killing her Thomas took out the maximum £310,000 life insurance policy available in the event he or his wife should die.
He also stood to be the sole beneficiary from her pension.
Peter claimed to have accidentally strangled his wife when they both fell over during a row in the bedroom in the early hours of 2 August last year.
He claimed he was so shocked he said he lit a number of candles around her body ‘to calm the mood’ accidentally setting her body and possessions ablaze too.
But prosecutor Gareth Patterson QC said Peter set the series of fires to cover up the injuries and obliterate the tattoos he hated along with the phones his wife used to contact her new man.
‘The deliberate burning shows his rage, and it shows the reason why he murdered her in the first place,’ he explained.
Peter was convicted of murder and arson being reckless as to whether the lives of his three daughters were endangered last week.
Jurors heard the couple’s three daughters woke up to the sound of their mother’s ‘muffled screams’ but Peter kicked their bedroom door shut each time one of the girls tried to peer in.
When firefighters arrived to battle the blaze in the bedroom the plasterer claimed Karen had gone for a walk and that the house was empty.
In a moving victim impact statement, Karen’s eldest daughter said: ‘I find it hard to describe the devastation that blew our world apart on 2 August 2018.
‘When they told us my mum’s body had been found inside the house time stood still; frozen.
‘People talked but nothing made sense.’
She described desperately searching the house since for one of her mother’s possessions only to find ‘everything gone; destroyed due to fire damage, just like her’.
The couple’s daughter said that her parent’s frequent rows had ‘become normal’.
‘I always thought Dad was our protector, that he would protect us from the outside world,’ she continued.
‘The irony; it was him we needed protecting from and him who took our mother from us.’
The court heard the three girls have since tried to repair the damage caused by the fire and renovate the poorly-maintained house to give ‘Mum the home that she always wanted’.
But she added that her callous father has since sent a number of emails and letters ‘threatening to sell the house if we continued with the renovation works’.
Karen’s 80-year-old mother Margery McDonald, who sat alongside her husband Dennis, 81, throughout the trial, added that she now feels ‘lost’ without her ‘best friend’.
She also described racking her memories ‘for clues’ about the real nature of the problems in her daughter’s marriage.
‘On 2 August 2018 I stood outside [Karen’s house] watching helpless as it burned,’ Mrs McDonald said.
‘All the while my daughter Karen lay trapped inside. This day will torture me forever.’
The Common Serjeant of London, Judge Richard Marks QC, jailed Peter for life and ordered he serve a minimum term of 25 years behind bars at the Old Bailey today (mon).
The judge told him: ‘You are an arrogant, egotistical, chauvinistic and controlling bully.’
He added: ‘I am satisfied from the evidence that for a long time you treated Karen quite abysmally.
‘According to one of your daughters, whose evidence I accept, you always started arguments with her, calling her names like slag, slut and c**t, and saying to her ‘Who would want you?’ and that she was fat and a bad mother.
‘A bad mother – what an outrageous lie that was.
‘She was, as you well knew, an outstanding mother.’
Defending, Kerim Fuad QC, told the court: ‘It is so very sad that a relationship that started so long ago, that began full of promise, love and laughter, which bore the three bright and lovely children from whom this court has heard, should end in such a devastating and ugly fashion.’
Jurors heard during the trial how the pair married in 1994 but ‘it had been a far from happy relationship for Karen’.
She finally applied for a divorce in February 2010 citing her husband’s adultery and stating that the relationship had broken down irretrievably.
But they continued to live together under the same roof with their three daughters.
Their divorce was granted weeks later, in September 2010, but they remarried in February 2012.
‘Although married again, things were still not easy for Karen,’ Mr Patterson said.
‘His adultery continued.
‘Messages found by police on the defendant’s phone showed that for long periods after the remarriage he conducted a series of relationships with other women, often overlapping with each other.
‘These other relationships involved his having sex with these women and expressing his love for these other women, often at the same time as he was professing his love for Karen, his wife, or at the same time she was expressing in messages her love or showing the efforts she was making in the marriage.’
The prosecutor told jurors that Peter would ‘act in a controlling way towards his wife and in a threatening way towards her’.
During their relationship the couple had ‘hundreds of rows’ and Karen spent years ‘tiptoeing around his ego and his bullying’.
Just weeks before her murder she texted a friend to say: ‘I just need to be careful.’
‘It’s prophetic; she knows he is capable of further violence,’ Mr Patterson said.
Peter’s sense of ‘control’ was still there last summer when he discovered his wife’s plans to leave him.
‘His fragile ego couldn’t take it and he was not prepared to let that happen,’ said Mr Patterson.
Karen was killed the day before she had arranged a night out with a friend and the day after she told people she was ‘the happiest she had ever been’ after helping her mother celebrate her 80th birthday.
‘What she must have endured in that final hour of her life is difficult to think about,’ the prosecutor continued.
He said Peter’s claim that his wife ran on his hands when they were stretched forward at her as they tussled together was ‘nonsense.’
Peter, formerly of Valentines Way, Romford, was convicted of murder and arson being reckless as to whether life was endangered.
He was jailed for life with a minimum term of 25 years.