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26 years for stabbing mum and baby

A bar manager who murdered his girlfriend and their 10-month-old daughter in a "sustained and fearsome" knife attack will spend at least 26 years in prison, a judge said today.

Anthony Marsh plunged the weapon into half-naked Stephanie Bellinger, 24, more than 30 times as she slept in the bedroom of their home in Totton, Hampshire, in February.

He was jailed for life yesterday after being found guilty by a jury of the two murders. The term set by Mr Justice Holroyde is the minimum he will serve before he can be eligible for parole.

The prosecution said the killing of receptionist Miss Bellinger had "powerful elements of sexual motivation and revenge" after Marsh said he heard voices in his head to kill them both.

Their daughter Lili Marsh was stabbed once through the head as she lay on the same bed.

The judge called the murders "deliberate, dreadful and selfish" as Marsh rocked his head while sitting in the dock.

He told the court that the surviving child Marsh left locked in the house for more than 24 hours aged just two-and-a half when he fled the scene faced a life as "an orphan of one parent by the crime of another".

He said the youngster had been left in a "scene of dreadful bloodshed" and he had been in the room with the bodies.

"He probably took the cordless telephone to his dead mother as it rang as family tried to contact her," the judge told the court.

He said it was an inescapable inference from the evidence that Marsh deliberately left the body of Miss Bellinger in such a way, with the knife plunged into her mouth and half-naked, to leave "a most dreadful scene for whoever found the bodies".

"You must have known that it was likely that first to see the bodies would be a close family member - probably Stephanie's mother.

"She and Stephanie's sister have to live with the loss of two loved ones but also with the memory of finding the bodies. For a mother and sister to find a loved one in such a position is truly appalling.

"As an intelligent man, I can only conclude you must have thought about that at some stage.

"It was, in my view, an act of selfishness to do nothing," he said.

In mitigation, the judge said he took into account Marsh's age and, to a lesser extent, his abnormality of mind. He said he readily accepted that he loved his girlfriend of four years and his children.

He said the explanation for the murders was rooted in the flawed character of Marsh, who failed to cope with his responsibilities.

The Winchester Crown Court jury heard during the two-week trial that Marsh suffered from bipolar disorder and the family were in £13,000 debt, partly because he lost his job after he stole from a pub he worked in.

He often fled the family home and went to other cities, sleeping rough before handing himself in at hospitals.

Marsh told police he heard voices telling him to kill his girlfriend and daughter. He did not harm his son because he was able to resist the voices, he told police.

He said he counted to 50 several times before he started the attack but he continued as Miss Bellinger screamed and tried to fend off the blade. He then killed Lili.

Miss Bellinger's mother Elizabeth Bellinger and her elder sister Ruth Goody discovered the "truly distressing scene" when they broke in.

Her family were in the public gallery as the minimum term was set.

Christopher Parker QC, prosecuting, said during the trial: "He (Marsh) said in the week of the killings he had wished he didn't have to worry about Stephanie. He said voices had been telling him he should kill Stephanie."

The barrister said it was not a mercy killing, but one that had sexual elements to it.

The jury was shown distressing images of the scene and Mr Parker told them the body of Miss Bellinger had been "left as if she was a victim of a sexual assault" and it was "indicative of a sexual type of killing and not consistent with a mercy killing".