Teenager gets life for burning girlfriend to death

Click to follow
The Independent Online

A teenager who poured a can of petrol over his girlfriend and set her on fire was locked up for life today for her murder.

Jessica McCagh, 17, burned to death when 18-year-old Stewart Blackburn set her alight on April 25 this year after a row in which she threatened to leave him.

As she was engulfed in flames in the bedroom of his flat in Arbroath, Angus, the killer held the door shut to stop her escaping.

Blackburn was detained for life at the High Court in Edinburgh today and ordered to spend at least 21 years behind bars for the "barbaric and evil" murder.

The victim's parents, Marion and Garry, who sat through days of harrowing evidence during the trial, were in court today to see Blackburn led away to the cells.

Judge Lord Bracadale said Jessica suffered a "terrible death" at Blackburn's hands and the killing had involved an act of "quite extraordinary cruelty".

A jury took less than two hours last month to unanimously find Blackburn guilty of murder after a 10-day trial at the High Court in Livingston.

Blackburn, described in court as a "violent thug", had tried to plead guilty to the lesser charge of culpable homicide, insisting the fire was not started intentionally.

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

But the court heard that Blackburn had committed "murder, pure and simple".

He flew into a violent rage when Jessica accused him of kissing another girl and he punched her off her feet.

The argument continued when they returned to the flat they occasionally shared.

It was there that a drunk Blackburn deliberately poured at least a litre of petrol over his girlfriend when she threatened to dump him.

He turned her into a fireball with his cigarette lighter as she knelt, defenceless, on the bed.

The killer then abandoned his burning victim and fled the scene, shouting: "Jessica's dead."

He later appeared more worried about his pet dogs which died in the fire.

Jessica's neighbour, Ricci Foreman, ran to the flat when he heard an explosion and forced his way in.

He repeatedly filled a fish tank with water and threw it over his friend in a desperate attempt to save her as she begged him for help.

Jessica, a former Arbroath High School pupil, died in intensive care at Dundee's Ninewells Hospital, surrounded by her loved ones.

She had burns to 85% of her body and could never have survived her injuries.

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

Lord Bracadale said Jessica's murder had three stages.

He said: "First, you threw petrol over her. Then you set fire to her.

"The expert evidence made it clear that that was a more difficult thing to do than many of us would have thought and must have involved holding a naked flame to her or the bedclothes in order to set her alight.

"Once she was alight you did something of quite extraordinary cruelty: you held the bedroom door shut to prevent her escape.

"Jessica McCagh was your girlfriend, aged 17 years, and she died a terrible death at your hands.

"In addition, the jury found that, on an earlier occasion, you had threatened to burn with petrol the house of her parents, where she was then living."

Lord Bracadale said Blackburn also had a history of violence as a child.

The judge said Blackburn admitted to a social worker that he threw a petrol bomb at a house when he was 13, because of a row with the occupant.

Blackburn, who already has convictions for theft by housebreaking and an assault on Jessica's father, showed little emotion as the sentence was handed down.