The spurned husband of Eddy Grant’s niece was jailed for 32 years for burning her to death in revenge when she threw him out of their home.
Handyman Damion Simmons, 45, broke into the house he had shared with Denise Keane-Simmons, 36, to pour petrol over her head and set her alight.
Simmons leapt from a bathroom window as flames ripped through the terraced house in Harlesden, northwest London.
Mrs Keane-Simmons ran in terror into her room on fire, still so terrified of Simmons that she managed to lock the door behind her.
She hid beside her bed and died from terrible burns and the effects of smoke inhalation.
Simmons admitted he was ‘jealous and controlling’ but insisted he wanted to die in front of his wife when he started the fire.
But the Old Bailey heard how he posted naked pictures of her on Instagram hours before the blaze.
He left her a voicemail message saying: ‘I really hope you suffer and die’ as he walked to the house with the petrol.
Simmons had poured the accelerant through the letter box first then broke into the house when he could not reach far enough to set it alight.
Judge Philip Katz said: ‘Denise Keane, still grieving the death of her own mother, was burnt to death in her own home.
‘Denise’s aunt Helen describes her as happy, fun, free-spirited and charismatic individual who led with her heart.
‘Denise had worked for over ten years as a teaching assistant, working with young children and with a special focus on the arts.
‘No doubt she was hoping for a family of her own when she married in February 2019.
‘Denise’s family, the jury and I listened to the desperately sad story of the final months of her life as she had to endure the possessiveness and cruelty of the man she had just married.
‘The quiet dignity shown by Denise’s family and friends who listened to her killer’s attempt to avoid responsibility for killing their woman they loved is to their immense credit.
‘On a number of occasions during the early months of 2020 the police had been called to help her and Denise had finally been to see a lawyer to end this short but disastrous marriage.
‘Perhaps the most poignant evidence in the trial is the footage from the body worn camera of one of the police officers who were with Denise just over an hour before she was murdered.
‘She looked ground down, and defeated by the persistent, spiteful and humiliating conduct of the man who at that very time was on his way across London intending to kill her in the most horrible way imaginable.
‘You, Damien Simmons, were that man.’
The judge added: ‘From beginning to end it was all about you.’
The court heard the couple had met online in 2017 when he was living in Trinidad and Mrs Keane-Simmons flew out to marry him there a year later.
Petite English graduate Mrs Keane-Simmons, who was 4ft 11 ins tall and weighed just eight stone, worked as a teaching assistant.
Mrs Keane-Simmons has been married before but that relationship ended when her husband was convicted of robbery and deported.
Her mother was married to the Electric Avenue musician’s brother.
Simmons had a young daughter from his previous marriage and he jumped at the chance to move in with his wife at her mother’s home in Alric Avenue, Harlesden.
But he soon became surly and manipulative and he tried to stop his wife going out on her own or dancing with other men at parties.
He was critical about the money she spent while making her pay for his mobile phone and demanding up to £300 a time from her for ‘a drink.’
The problems got worse after Mrs Keane-Simmons’s mother died and left the house to her daughter in December 2019.
At a wake held for the mother in her old home, Simmons drunkenly objected to his wife’s former boyfriends being present shouting: ‘I’m the man of the house.’
After the police were called to a violent incident at the end of January, Mrs Keane-Simmons threw him out of the house and changed the locks.
She found that night that before he left Simmons had fitted a secret camera disguised as a lightbulb in the bedroom.
Simmons was forced to move into a one-bedroomed flat with his mother and conditions were so cramped he had to share her bed.
He spent the months leading up to the fire on the night of April 15 last year harassing his wife by bombarding her with emails and text messages from his and other’s people’s phones.
Simmons turned up at her school in Holloway, banged on her front door and badgered her friends.
On the night of the fire he posted the naked pictures as he travelled to Alric Avenue with a gallon of petrol.
When her friend called him to complain about the pictures he cackled down the phone and hung up.
Another friend who rang up about the pictures was told: ‘Let her suffer like I did and feel humiliated like I do.’
Mrs Keane-Simmons called the police over the Instagram posts and when officers arrived the handyman was already skulking in the front garden with the petrol can.
He was there as she told police: ‘This incident has left me feeling emotionally drained. There seems to be no end to his behaviour, and I do not expect a personal picture of mine be published to publicly.
‘I feel anxious about leaving my house as his behaviour is so unpredictable and just want to live my life without that worry of Damion.’
Around 30 minutes after the officers had left the house, Simmons went to the front door and poured petrol through the letter box.
He then went to the front of the house and smashed a bay window to break in.
Maureen Lalgie, the friend of the victim who was staying at the house heard Mrs Keane-Simmons shouting ‘Who the f–k are you?’.
She then heard the terror in Denise’s voice when she asked: ‘What are you doing?’.
‘I did not hear Denise’s voice again. I heard bangs and explosions which was as if something had been thrown into the house,’ Mrs Lalgie said.
‘Then everything went quiet.
‘I went to look and as I went toward my bedroom door I could see smoke coming under my bedroom door.’
Mrs Lalgie shouted for help from her bedroom window and was rescued after a neighbour fetched a ladder and firefighters helped her down.
Simmons had doused the living room, stairs and upstairs landing with petrol before he was confronted by his wife.
He poured more petrol over her head and shoulders and then flicked his lighter to set her ablaze.
Simmons was burned on the wrist and back of the leg as he turned away from his burning wife and may have thrown the rest of the petrol at her before he ran to the bathroom to put himself out.
He jumped from the window and groaned to paramedics: ‘Just let me die’ when he was found still smoldering in the garden.
Firefighters battled through flames and thick smoke to reach Mrs Keane-Simmons but she was later pronounced dead in hospital.
Simmons spent 12 days in hospital with police at his bedside after initially refusing treatment.
He told the jury he wanted to burn himself to death in front of his wife but had not intended to harm her.
‘I just wanted to die. She had to see me die…just so she would be tormented by the fact she had seen me kill myself,’ he said.
He said after he broke in he was confronted by Mrs Keane-Simmons on the landing upstairs.
‘I remember taking the petrol can. I was about to pour it. I had the lighter in my left hand,’ he said.
As I was about to pour petrol, I don’t know if she grabbed it or hit it out my hand.
‘I remember petrol pouring on me.
‘I remember trying to pick up the petrol can and lighting the lighter. All I can remember as I did so was a big wall of flames.’
Prosecutors said Simmons would not have poured petrol in through the letter box if he wanted to kill himself but he said he ‘could not remember’ doing it.
The court heard he Googled ‘what is the best way to use a knife and kill someone?’’Insanity in English Law’, and ‘cases where the insanity defence worked.’
‘I wasn’t in my right mind,’ he told jurors.
Simmons, of no fixed address, denied murder, voyeurism and arson with intent to endanger life.
He admitted manslaughter and disclosing private sexual photographs of the teaching assistant with intent to cause distress.
The jury cleared him of voyeurism and did not find that the camera he admitted fitting in the bedroom was for sexual purposes.
But he was convicted of murder and arson with intent to endanger life.
Wearing a Covid mask, Simmons sat with his head hung in shame as the victim impact statement from Helen Keane, the aunt of the victim was read to the court.
Four female members of the victim’s family sat at the back of court dabbing at their eyes with tissues.
Ms Keane said Ms Keene Simmons was ‘a happy free spirited charismatic individual who led with her heart.’
‘What she did not have in height she made up for with her personality,’ she said.
Ms Keane said the children at the school where her niece worked thought of her as their friend and were heartbroken to learn of her death.
‘Words cannot express how devastated we are,’ the aunt added.
‘All Denise wished for was for the defendant to leave her alone.
‘Heaven has gained another angel. Denise is resting in peace in her mother’s loving arms.’
Judge Katz added: ‘It was your possessive and controlling conduct to your wife which destroyed your marriage.’
He said Simmons’ conduct since the murder showed he had no remorse.
‘Based on everything I have seen and heard, including your behaviour in court, the person you seemed most sorry for is yourself,’ he added.
‘Your accounts to police, doctors and others who spoke to you after the event were all of a theme: from beginning to end it was all about you.
‘I heard you give evidence when you claim not to remember events of why you did what you undoubtedly did.
‘It may well be you genuinely cannot bring yourself to acknowledge the horror and inhumanity of what you did, but there is no evidence of genuine remorse.’
The judge commended the ‘extraordinary bravery’ of neighbours who helped rescue Mrs Lalgie and the firefighters who tackled the blaze.
Olcay Sapanoglu, from the CPS, said: ‘Damion Simmons carried out a jealous campaign of torment and abuse against his wife which culminated in him murdering her in the most horrific of ways – simply because he could not accept that their relationship was over.
‘Simmons claimed that he went to his wife’s home to kill himself so she would have to watch – and that he meant her no harm at all. The jury were able to see through this lie.
‘The prosecution case included testimony from a burns expert who was able to convey that the defendant had intended to cause serious harm as petrol had been poured over the victim’s head and body.
‘We were able to show the jury CCTV evidence of Simmons buying a petrol can and filling it with five-and-a-half litres before carrying it with him on a bus to his wife’s address.
‘He was also caught on camera hiding in wait outside the home while police officers were inside.
‘We also presented phone evidence that showed Simmons’ calculated actions given that weeks before the murder he had searched ‘cases where the insanity defence worked’ and visited the CPS page entitled ‘Mental health conditions disorders: draft prosecution guidance.’
‘Simmons’ violent actions have resulted in a devasting loss of life. While nothing can bring Denise back, I hope this conviction provides some sense of justice to her family and friends. Our thoughts remain very much with them at this time.
‘Everyone has the right to choose their partners and should not be subjected violent reprisals for their decisions. Domestic violence can have a shattering effect on all those involved and the CPS is committed to holding these offenders to account through the courts.’