A man who strangled his wife to death and then burnt her body has been found guilty of her murder.
Thomas Peter, 50 (09.03.68), of Valentines Way, Romford, carried out the wicked crime while his three daughters were still in the family home.
Peter was found guilty of the murder of his wife Karen Peter and arson with intent to endanger life at the Old Bailey on Thursday, 7 February.
He will be sentenced at the same court on Monday, 11 February.
The court heard how Peter and Karen got married in 1994 and had three daughters together. However, in February 2010 – after Karen endured years of violence, controlling behaviour and Peter being unfaithful – she filed for divorce. They continued to live in the same house.
In July 2010, police received a 999 call from Karen saying Peter had assaulted her. Karen was extremely frightened and said Peter squeezed her throat so much that she could not breathe.
She told officers that she did not want him to be arrested, adding that she was scared of the repercussions. Peter denied the allegation and Karen chose not to proceed.
The divorce was finalised in September 2010, however the pair re-married in February 2012.
But it was not long until Peter was unfaithful. Following Karen’s murder, officers found messages on Peter’s phone that showed he had been conducting a series of relationships with women after the re-marriage.
The court also heard from a number of witnesses who described how controlling and manipulative Peter was, and how jealous he was of Karen interacting with other men.
A few weeks before she was murdered, Karen told one of her daughters she was unhappy in the relationship. She also got a tattoo and her tongue pierced, even though Peter said he would divorce her if she did. Friends described Karen as growing in confidence and being much happier with her saying ‘I want my life back’.
Karen told Peter that she wanted to end the relationship and she told various family members and friends that they were going to live separate lives in the same house. However, Peter was not happy with this and wanted to fix things.
Karen confided in a friend that she had met ‘someone special’ but said Peter would ‘kill her’ if he found out. Karen arranged to meet her friend on 3 August 2018. She asked her to look after a bag for her and said she had so much to tell her. The court heard it appeared that Karen was planning a night away, possibly with the special someone. However, Peter had already grown suspicious that Karen had met a new man.
On the morning of 2 August 2018, the pair’s daughters, now aged 22, 20 and 14, were awoken to what sounded to them like a muffled scream from their mother, coming from their parents’ bedroom.
One of the daughters entered the bedroom and saw Peter on the floor. He kicked the door shut and locked it, saying he was naked and had hurt his knee. He also said he had wet the bed. When asked where Karen was, he said she had gone for a walk – a lie he repeatedly told that morning.
The girls said their father was convincing and they called their mother’s mobile phone. However, they became suspicious when they heard it ringing in the bedroom.
Their suspicions were raised further when they found both the front and back doors locked and their mother’s keys in the house.
They kept asking Peter to open the door but he kept making-up excuses. He then asked them to put the bins out.
The girls then heard the sound of something being dragged upstairs. They went to investigate and saw their father standing outside a rear bedroom. When questioned about the noise, he said it was a suitcase. They asked him to open the door but he refused, saying he had lost the key. He was asked to break down the door but he refused and walked off.
One of the daughters then decided to call 999. When she got out her phone, Peter demanded that she give it to him, but she managed to go outside and call the police at about 06:45hrs saying “I think my mum’s been strangled.”
All three girls were outside the house when they saw smoke coming from their parents’ bedroom window. One of the daughters called 999 to report the fire while another went inside and asked Peter what was happening, he said he ‘lit a candle and it had fallen over.’ He tried to push her back down the stairs, dropping the keys to the bedroom as he did so. The daughter grabbed the keys and tried to get into the rear room, but Peter grabbed the keys back off her.
Two bin men working in the area then came running into the house and told everyone to get out. Peter likewise tried to push them back down the stairs. By this stage, the daughter could see the fire in her parents’ bedroom and smoke coming from the locked rear room.
Peter told the bin men no one was in the house, but the daughter said her mother was in the rear room.
One daughter sought help from next door. Peter then told the neighbour that the ‘kids are saying I’ve killed their mum, but I haven’t’. He said that Karen had gone for a walk and repeatedly told the neighbour to go.
Karen’s parents arrived on scene and Peter again lied telling them she had gone for a walk and that he would not hurt her.
When the London Fire Brigade arrived, Peter again said no one was in the house. The fire fighters entered the house wearing breathing apparatus. They broke down the rear bedroom door and found Karen inside, badly burnt and with cloth pushed inside her mouth. She was pronounced dead at 07:20hrs.
A post-mortem examination was held on 3 August 2018 at East Ham Mortuary and gave the cause of death as compression of the neck.
The police officers who attended walked Peter to a police car and he sat in the rear where he said that Karen had ‘been playing up recently’ and had ‘changed’. He said they had an argument and he lit two candles and she went for a walk. He then asked how his dog was, but did not enquire after his wife or children.
He was then told his wife was dead and he was arrested on suspicion of murder. When cautioned he replied ‘no, no, no, no’. He did not ask what had happened to his wife.
He was taken to an east London police station and refused to answer any questions put to him by detectives.
The court heard that Karen’s death involved having cloth forced deep in her mouth, probably to muffle her screams before Peter strangled her. The pathologist reported that the strangulation had been for a ‘sustained and significant period’.
Peter had then moved her body and set fire to it, also setting fire to the bedroom where the attack took place.
The jury was also told that on 2 July 2018, Peter took out life insurance for both himself and his wife, opting for a policy where he would get a £310,000 pay out if Karen died.
Detective Sergeant Perry Benton, the investigating officer from the Met’s Homicide and Major Crime Command, 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. 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.
“He lied again and again as to his wife’s whereabouts and sought to prevent their daughters, the bin men, and the next door neighbour from intervening.
“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 re-live that awful morning at trial.
“I cannot even begin to imagine what they are going through, but I would like to praise them for their immense courage and assistance throughout. I hope today’s verdict gives them some measure of comfort and closure.
“I would ask the media to respect the family’s privacy during this difficult and heart-breaking time.
“Finally, I would implore anyone who is suffering or knows of someone suffering domestic abuse to call police immediately. I know it can be difficult to take the first step and make the call, but your call will be treated in the strictest confidence and could ultimately save someone’s life.”