A student, Tiernan Darnton, has been convicted of the murder of his 94-year-old step-grandmother three years after an inquest ruled she was the victim of an accidental house fire.
Mary Gregory was discovered under a table in the conservatory of her smoke-logged bungalow in Heysham, Lancashire in the early hours of May 28 2018 and died four days later in the hospital.
An investigation by Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service concluded the most probable cause was a dropped or carelessly discarded cigarette and ruled out any third-party involvement, which later led to a coroner recording a verdict of accidental death.
However, police reopened the case in May 2019 following comments made by her grandson Tiernan Darnton, 21, during a counseling session in which he said he killed Mrs Gregory, his stepfather’s mother, by using a lighter to set a curtain on fire, BBC reports.
During the inquiry, it emerged that Darnton had made a similar confession several weeks after Mrs Gregory’s death, during a game of Truth or Dare with two friends in which he revealed his “darkest secret.”
He told the pair, “I have a secret I haven’t told anyone. I may have killed someone.”
When pressed, he said he started the blaze because he did not want Mrs Gregory to suffer any longer from dementia, Preston Crown Court heard.
Darnton’s friends did not believe him and he persuaded them to keep quiet, but he told a counsellor in May 2019 about a friend “who could send me to prison cos of what he knows.”
He added that he had felt “powerful” at an event involving a person who had died – thought to be Mrs Gregory’s funeral – as he “knew what had happened and everyone else in the room didn’t.”
The female counsellor ended the session by saying to him “I’m not really clear what you’re saying but I think you’re trying to tell me you’ve killed someone,” to which Darnton mouthed “Yes.”
A week later he told the counsellor and his stepfather, Chris Gregory, 66, that he had started the fire and the matter was later passed to the police by the counsellor, the court was told.
The defendant closed his eyes briefly after the jury foreman returned the unanimous verdict and his stepfather rushed out of the courtroom as other members of the family, who were sitting apart from Mr Gregory, broke down in tears.
Darnton, a former student at Kendal College and Lancaster & Morecambe College, was arrested at his family home in Combermere Road, Heysham, in May 2019.
Mr Gregory, giving evidence for the defence, said Darnton – whom he home-schooled – had been suffering from depression for a number of years and was “plagued by intrusive thoughts which were very, very disturbing.”
He told the jury he would have taken Darnton to the police himself if he believed he had hurt his mother in any way.
Following the verdict, Detective Chief Inspector Zoe Russo, from Lancashire Police said, “Darnton regularly visited Mrs Gregory’s home after her son took him under his wing at a young age.
“Darnton would spend time at Mrs Gregory’s bungalow and not only took advantage of Mrs Gregory’s kind nature, he also used his access to her home to meticulously plan his murderous act.”