A man convicted of murdering his former partner, who died 21 years after he set her alight, has received his second life sentence for the “gratuitous, deliberate and monstrous” attack.
Steven Craig, 58, was inspired by a scene from the Quentin Tarantino film Reservoir Dogs when he doused Jackie Kirk in petrol and held a lighter to her face 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 in 2000.
Craig served almost 19 years in prison, but was then 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.
In a landmark case which was televised, Mrs Justice Stacey jailed Craig for life on Thursday and told him the total sentence for his crime should be 34 years.
She set the minimum term he must now serve in prison as 15 years and five days, meaning he will have spent at least 34 years behind bars for the attack.
The judge described how Craig had repeatedly watched a scene in Reservoir Dogs in which a policeman is tortured in a chair before being set alight with petrol.
“Jackie described you watching the film with a permanent grin and that you liked seeing the torture. You enjoyed acting like the characters in the film,” the judge said.
She described the attack on Ms Kirk as “planned and premeditated”, with Craig intending to inflict serious violence.
“There is no doubt that you planned and intended to engage in a gratuitous, deliberate and monstrous attack upon Jackie during that road trip with whatever means at your disposal and to intimidate her psychologically to cause maximum physical and mental pain over a period of days,” the judge told Craig.
The judge said there was a history of violence by Craig towards Ms Kirk, he was drunk at the time of the attack and “cowardly” afterwards – ordering her to stay away from him while on fire and not helping to extinguish the flames.
She highlighted the “level of sadism and extreme nature of the attack”, describing it as “just so callous and so brutal”.
Ms Kirk suffered “physical and mental suffering and terrible scarring” for the 21 years she lived, being reminded of the attack every time she looked in the mirror, the judge added.
Mrs Justice Stacey told Craig: “Your murder of Jackie justifies a total minimum term of imprisonment of 34 years in your life sentence.
“But because you have already served nearly 19 years for causing the grievous bodily harm that she so bravely endured for 21 years, the term I now impose of 15 years and five days is the balance that brings the total minimum term period to 34 years’ imprisonment.”
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.
Shortly before the attack, Craig told Ms Kirk they would travel to Plymouth in her car as he had arranged a gangster to kill her.
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 Sonna 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.
Speaking after the case, Detective Chief Inspector Mark Almond of Avon and Somerset Police, said: “Steven Craig was undoubtedly responsible for Jackie’s death and like all murderers, deserves to be severely punished.”