Teenager faces life for 'barbaric' murder of girlfriend

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The Independent Online

A teenager who soaked his girlfriend in petrol before setting her on fire was facing life behind bars today after being convicted of her "barbaric and evil" murder.

Jessica McCagh, 17, burned to death after being torched by 18-year-old Stewart Blackburn at his flat in Arbroath, Angus, on April 25 this year.

The killer held the bedroom door shut, trapping Jessica inside with no means of escape, before he fled the scene.

The victim's mother, Marion, and father, Garry, who endured days of harrowing evidence at the High Court in Livingston, spoke of their heartache after the unanimous verdict was delivered.

They said: "Stewart Blackburn has been found guilty of murdering our beautiful daughter in the most terrible and terrifying way.

"No parent should ever have to bury a child and we hope no parent will ever have to endure the anguish we have suffered since Jessica was taken from us.

"Jessica was the baby of the family. We miss everything about her and we always will."

They also paid tribute to their youngest daughter's friend, Ricci Foreman, who desperately tried to save her.

Judge Lord Bracadale said Jessica suffered a "terrible death" at the hands of her boyfriend.

He told Blackburn: "Her family are left bereft. These acts demonstrate a degree of wickedness on your part which will leave all right-thinking people deeply disturbed."

The jury took less than two hours to find Blackburn guilty of murder after a 10-day trial.

Cries of "Yes" echoed round the packed public gallery, while her parents linked arms and shed tears when the jury's decision was delivered.

Blackburn showed little emotion.

Solicitor-General Frank Mulholland QC, prosecuting, told jurors: "It is difficult to envisage more cruel or sadistic treatment of another human being."

He said Blackburn had committed "a barbaric and evil act against a defenceless young woman".

Described as a "violent thug" in court, Blackburn was willing to admit killing his girlfriend but denied it was murder.

He claimed hot pieces of cannabis from a joint he was smoking accidentally ignited petrol which he had splashed on Jessica during a row at his flat in Bloomfield Road.

But in reality, a drunk Blackburn deliberately poured a litre of petrol or more over his girlfriend in a violent rage after she threatened to dump him.

He held a naked flame next to her, turning her into a fireball.

Far from helping to put out the flames which engulfed her, Blackburn abandoned his victim and fled the scene, shouting: "Jessica's dead."

Jessica, a former Arbroath High School pupil, had burns to 80%-85% of her body.

Jurors were shown photographs of her charred body but were spared the most harrowing pictures.

She soon lost her fight for life in intensive care at Dundee's Ninewells Hospital, surrounded by her relatives.

Her final words to her father were: "I don't want to die, Dad - I love you."

Detective Inspector Iain Wales, who led the Tayside Police murder investigation, welcomed today's verdict, saying Jessica suffered a "quite horrific death".

He said: "It is impossible for us to truly comprehend what Jessica endured.

"What I am sure of, however, is that Blackburn fully understood the consequences of his actions, acted without a glimmer of fear or compassion and ultimately showed a contemptible disregard for the agonies of someone he claimed to care for."

The area Procurator Fiscal for Tayside, Tom Dysart, said the crime had provoked outrage in the local community.

He said: "Jessica's family and friends not only have to live with her tragic loss, but also to carry the knowledge of the terrible circumstances in which she died.

"I hope that they can take some comfort from the jury's verdict, and from the fact that Stewart Blackburn has now been brought to justice."

Lord Bracadale called for background reports on Blackburn, who has a string of convictions for theft by housebreaking and assaulting Jessica's father.

Sentencing was deferred to January 5 at the High Court in Edinburgh.