Controlling bully jailed for life for strangling 'bubbly' wife after taking out £300,000 life insurance policy

Will Metcalfe
Thomas Peter, 50, has been jailed for life for the murder of his wife Karen. (PA)

A “controlling bully” who strangled his wife and burned her body after taking out £300,000 in life insurance is likely to die in jail.

Plasterer Thomas Peter, 50, had throttled “bubbly” job centre worker Karen in the past and belittled her during arguments, calling her “fat” and a “bad mother”, a court heard.

The serial adulterer took out the life insurance policy just weeks before the killing at the family home in Valentines Way, Romford, the Old Bailey was told.

He strangled 50-year-old Mrs Peter, rammed a flannel into her mouth and dragged her by the hair while their three children were at home in August last year. Peter, who feared his wife had met someone new, went on to set fire to her body, to disguise what he had done.

Peter told the Old Bailey he had killed his wife by accident but was found guilty of murder and arson following a trial.

Peter claimed he killed his wife by accident but was found guilty of murder and arson following an Old Bailey trial.

Judge Richard Marks QC sentenced Peter to life with a minimum term of 25 years for his “wicked and cruel” behaviour.

The judge said Peter was “an arrogant, egotistical chauvinistic controlling bully” who treated his wife “abysmally”.

Earlier, a string of impact statements were read out from Mrs Peter’s devastated family.

Her three daughters, who sat in court, all gave evidence in the trial against their father.

Peter’s three daughters all gave evidence against their father in his trial (Picture: PA)

Imogen Peter, 22, said she longed for “cuddles on the sofa” with her mother as she recalled treasured memories, she told the court she always saw her father as her “protector”.

She said: “We are young, we do not want to be engulfed in sorrow, we still have our lives to live. When we remember mum we want to remember her funny capers, her laughter, not that tragic day.”

Mrs Peter’s mother Marjorie McDonald, 80, told how she had now lost two “amazing” children, including her son Daryl 22 years ago.

On the loss of her daughter and “best friend”, she said: “I knew her marriage to Thomas wasn’t right but she never talked about it and I never pried.

“I look back now and I wish I had asked more questions.”

“On August 2 I stood in the street outside Valentines Way and watched helpless as it burned. All the while my daughter, Karen, lay trapped inside. This day will torture me forever. I will never recover from the loss of my children. No parent should ever outlive their children and stand at their graves.”

Father Dennis McDonald, 81, described his daughter as “bubbly” and his “partner in crime”.

Kerim Fuad QC, mitigating, said the daughters had not just lost their mother, but had also lost their father.

He said: “It is likely he will die in prison.”

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

After killing his wife Peter set fire to her body and left it locked in a first floor bedroom, he started at least one other fire in the house.

Their 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, Peter said she had gone out, even asking his children if they had done something to upset her, jurors heard.

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

The court heard there was evidence Mrs Peter had bitten her husband’s hand and a piece of skin was retrieved from her mouth.

Judge Marks handed Peter a life sentence for murder plus seven years for arson to run concurrently.