Student sentenced to life in jail for murder of his step-grandmother in Heysham house fire

A student who admitted in a Truth or Dare game to murdering his step-grandmother in a house fire has been sentenced to a minimum of 15 years in custody.

Friday, 12th November 2021, 12:09 pm

The family of Mary Gregory, 94, thought she was the victim of a tragic accident as an inquest ruled three years ago she died from a dropped or carelessly discarded cigarette.

However, police reopened the case a year later following a confession from Tiernan Darnton, 21, during a counselling session in which he said he killed Mrs Gregory – his step-father’s mother – by using a lighter to set a curtain on fire at her bungalow in Heysham.

During the probe, it emerged that Darnton had made a similar revelation several weeks after Mrs Gregory’s death, during a game of Truth or Dare with two friends in which he revealed his “darkest secret”.

Tiernan Darnton

Sentencing Darnton to life, Mrs Justice Yip told him: “Murder had been on your mind for some time. On your own evidence, you were fascinated by serial killers and their crimes. You had dark thoughts.

“Internet searches which you made before and after you killed Mrs Gregory paint a worrying picture.

“Your opportunity to act on your dark thoughts came when your stepfather was away. In the early hours of 28 May 2018, you went to Mrs Gregory’s home and deliberately started a fire in one of the bedrooms.”

The judge went on: “It is hard to imagine the horror Mrs Gregory must have felt when she realised her house was on fire and was filling with smoke.

Mary Gregory's case was heard at Preston Crown Court

“Neighbours heard her screams. Despite her frailty, she tried to get out, but she had been trapped. The fire service found her near to the conservatory doors, where you had blocked her exit.

“Her final days were spent in hospital. Quite understandably, her condition in those days continues to haunt those who loved her. The manner of her death was particularly cruel.”

The court heard that “disturbing material” – not presented to the jury in Darnton’s trial – had also been found in the defendant’s possession including plans to stalk and attack women and a “kill list” containing the names of multiple people.