Man jailed for murder of woman who died 21 years after he set her alight

A man convicted of murdering his partner who died 21 years after he set her alight has received his second life sentence for the attack.

Steven Craig, 58, inflicted horrendous injuries on Jackie Kirk in a car park in Weston-super-Mare, Somerset, in April 1998.

He was convicted of grievous bodily harm with intent in relation to the attack on the mother-of-two, and handed a discretionary life sentence with a minimum term of nine years for that and two other offences.

Craig served almost 19 years in prison but was arrested and charged with murder in June 2021 after Ms Kirk’s death at the age of 61 in August 2019.

A jury at Bristol Crown Court unanimously convicted Craig of the charge last month, finding the injuries caused by him – including burns to 35% of Ms Kirk’s body – were linked to her dying from a ruptured diaphragm.

Jacqueline Kirk, who was doused with petrol and set on fire by Steven Craig (Avon and Somerset Police/PA)
Jacqueline Kirk, who was doused with petrol and set on fire by Steven Craig (Avon and Somerset Police/PA)

Mrs Justice Stacey jailed Craig for life at the court on Thursday, telling him the total sentence for his crime should be 34 years – but he will serve a minimum of 15 years and five days due to his previous time in prison.

“Your conduct was sadistic from the build up to the attack,” the judge told Craig.

“Your attack was planned and pre-meditated. Deliberately causing really serious injury by fire is likely to involve agony to the victim.

“It was just so callous and so brutal. Such cruel behaviour, so lacking in humanity.”

She told Craig: “Your murder of Jackie justifies the total minimum term of imprisonment of 34 years but because you have already served nearly 19 years for causing the grievous bodily harm she so bravely ensured, the term I impose is 15 years and five days, that would bring the balance to 34 years.”

The judge paid tribute to Ms Kirk’s bravery and determination following the attack, which left her in hospital for nine months and requiring 14 operations including a tracheotomy and skin grafts.

She survived for 21 years and was able to see her son and daughter get married and have their own children.

They were by her bedside when she died in August 2019, having been taken to the Royal United Hospital in Bath seriously unwell.

The judge detailed how Ms Kirk suffered intestinal swelling for an unknown reason and scarring to her chest and abdomen meant their ability to expand was reduced.

This caused a ruptured diaphragm, with doctors unable to operate given her frailty.

Richard Smith KC, prosecuting, detailed how Ms Kirk and Craig had been in a relationship for about four years at the time of the attack.

“The defendant had repeatedly watched a scene from a film which appears to be the film Reservoir Dogs in which a man was tortured on a chair before being set alight,” Mr Smith said.

“Jackie recalled the grin on this defendant’s face as he watched that film. Jackie considered this defendant to have a fixation with fire.”

Mr Smith said Craig told Ms Kirk they would travel to Plymouth in her car as he had arranged a gangster to kill her.

Bodycam footage issued by Avon and Somerset Police of the arrest of Steven Craig (Avon and Somerset Police/PA)
Bodycam footage issued by Avon and Somerset Police of the arrest of Steven Craig (Avon and Somerset Police/PA)

During the drive, Craig stopped at a petrol station and filled a Coke bottle with petrol – becoming “increasingly agitated and violent”.

He parked the car in Weston-super-Mare, where he assaulted Ms Kirk before telling her to bend her head down.

“It was at that point she felt the petrol being poured over her head and neck,” Mr Smith said.

“The defendant was to hold a cigarette and suggest that Jackie might have one as it might be her last. It was at that point Jackie became aware of the fact the defendant had a lighter in his hand.

“She recalled the lighter flame moving across her face as she was ignited.”

A passer-by contacted nearby police and paramedics soon attended, finding Ms Kirk “severely burnt and in agony”.

She did not make a complaint against Craig until a year later, when she found out he had attacked and raped another woman.

The court heard Ms Kirk was so disfigured that her daughter only recognised her by her feet when she first saw her in hospital.

Representing Craig, Christopher Tehrani KC acknowledged that his client had been a “thoroughly unpleasant person” at the time of the attack.

“This is a man who served just under 19 years of a previous life sentence and who will now have to serve a long period in custody based on the facts that are substantially the facts for which he was sentenced back in 2000,” he said.

Permission had to be sought from the attorney general, then Suella Braverman, who is now Home Secretary, to charge Craig with murder.

Craig, of Brailsford Crescent, York, admitted the attack on Ms Kirk but denied being responsible for her death.