Father strangled wife for then set fire to her body while daughters were in other room

Serial adulterer took out £300,000 life insurance policy before killing spouse

Adam Forrest
Friday 08 February 2019 11:27
Thomas Peter
Thomas Peter

A man who strangled his wife and set her body alight after taking out more than £300,000 in life insurance has been found guilty of murder.

Serial adulterer Thomas Peter, 50, took out the policy just weeks before the killing Karen Peter at the family home in Romford, the Old Bailey heard.

The plasterer choked his 50-year-old wife to death while their three daughter were at home in east London on 2 August last year because he feared she had met someone new, jurors were told.

Gareth Patterson QC said he showed “not one ounce of compassion” for his wife of 24 years, who was just starting to grow in confidence after suffering from years of his “controlling” behaviour.

Describing the murder, the prosecutor said: “He forced a flannel cloth deep into his wife’s mouth, possibly trying to silence her.

“With one or both hands he strangled his wife to death. After murdering her, and despite the presence of his daughters, he started at least two fires in the house. He set fire to his wife’s body and left it in a locked first floor bedroom.”

The children were first alerted to their mother’s plight when they woke to a “muffled scream” coming from the bedroom, jurors heard. Asked what was going on, the murderer said she had gone out and even asked his children if they had done something to upset her.

Firefighters found Mrs Peter’s body heavily burned around the groin and thighs, with marks also to the head and neck.

Karen Peter (Metropolitan Police/PA Wire)

Peter had denied murder and arson, saying his wife died in an accident. That night, he said he had lit candles to “lighten the mood” before they argued and his wife had kicked him in the knee.

The jury rejected his claims, however, and unanimously found him guilty of murder and guilty of arson by a majority of 11 to one.

The couple had married in 1994, divorced in 2010, before re-marrying in 2012.

The family of Mrs Peter, a job centre worker, wept in court as the defendant was remanded into custody to be sentenced on Monday.

Detective Sergeant Perry Benton of Scotland Yard said: “Peter is an evil man and I am delighted he has been convicted and will face the consequences of his heinous crime.

“This was a vicious and merciless murder carried out by Peter in the family home while his three daughters slept in nearby rooms.

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“Peter’s actions were sustained and deliberate, he meant to kill Karen. He then callously set fire to her body and the house in a bid to destroy evidence, also putting his daughters’ lives at risk.

“Throughout this whole period, Peter did not demonstrate one ounce of compassion or concern for his wife or children.

“Peter refused to admit his guilt and has selfishly forced his daughters to relive that awful morning at trial.”

Additional reporting by Press Association