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A student has been sentenced to life imprisonment for murdering his step-grandmother after admitting to friends he had killed her during a game of "truth or dare."
Tiernan Darnton, 21, confessed to his pals that he set a curtain alight at the home of Mary Gregory, whose death was assumed to have been a tragic accident.
In the early hours of May 28 2018, firefighters had forced their way into the pensioner’s bungalow in Levens Drive in Heysham and rescued the dementia sufferer, who was treated at the scene by paramedics.
Mrs Gregory, formerly from Nuneaton, Warwickshire, died at the Royal Lancaster Infirmary on June 1 from the effects of smoke inhalation.
An inquest later took place in which a coroner recorded a conclusion of accidental death.
The prosecution in Darnton’s trial say the then 17-year-old persuaded his friends not to say anything about the Truth or Dare game, but nearly a year later he went on to make a similar admission to a counsellor, who passed the matter on to the police.
Lawyers in his defence claimed he made “false confessions” that he was a killer to impress his friends – but he has since been found guilty.
In his closing speech to jurors at Preston Crown Court, John Harrison QC, defending, said: "They were false confessions.
"With the Truth or Dare game, it appears to have been a misguided attempt to impress friends.
“To the counsellor, he said he had killed someone, that was pure fiction. He was troubled by intrusive and dark thoughts which led him to blame himself for what happened to Mrs Gregory.”
The defendant’s stepfather, Chris Gregory, 66, son of the blaze victim had told the court that Darnton had been suffering from depression for a number of years and was “plagued by intrusive thoughts which were very very disturbing”.
His stepson was interested in “all kind of dark things” and would read books about serial killers “but it was all fantasy.”
Darnton, a former student at Kendal College and also Lancaster and Morecambe College, was arrested in May 2019 at the family home in Combermere Road, Heysham, Lancs Live reports.
Examinations of his mobile phone and laptop revealed a number of Google searches made after the fire including “murderer filled with despair”, “I’m a murderer” and “I want to cause evil”.
Before the blaze he had also made a search for “Under 18 murder”.
When giving evidence about the web searches, Darnton said they were related to his interest in horror stories and killers.
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."
The young man was to life imprisonment with a minimum term of 15 years at Preston Crown Court.
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