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A student who confessed in a Truth or Dare game to murdering his step-grandmother drew up a”kill list” containing names of multiple people, a court has heard.
The “disturbing material” also including plans to stalk and attack women were found in the possession of Tiernan Darnton, 21, in the police investigation that followed his admission.
Three years ago an inquest found that heavy smoker Mary Gregory, 94, was the victim of a tragic accident who probably died from a dropped or carelessly discarded cigarette.
However, police reopened the case a year later following a confession from Darnton during a counselling session in which he said he killed Mrs Gregory – his stepfather’s mother – by using a lighter to set a curtain on fire at her bungalow in Heysham, Lancashire.
During the probe, it emerged that Darnton had made a similar revelation several weeks after Mrs Gregory’s death, during a game of Truth or Dare with two friends in which he revealed his “darkest secret”.
Darnton, a former student at Kendal College and Lancaster & Morecambe College, was arrested at his family home in Combermere Road, Heysham in May 2019.
Examination of his mobile phone and laptop found internet searches made after the fire including “I think I might be turning into a serial killer, please help”, “I want to cause evil” and “Urge to kill again”.
A month before the blaze, when Darnton was 17, he searched for “Under 18 murder” and “How long do murderers serve in prison?”
A detailed floorplan drawing of Mrs Gregory’s home was discovered by police in a notebook of the defendant.
He was also found in possession of the “kill list” – evidence not presented at Preston Crown Court to the jury that unanimously found him guilty of murder.
Sentencing Darnton to life with a minimum term of 15 years in custody, Mrs Justice Yip told him: “Murder had been on your mind for some time. On your own evidence, you were fascinated by serial killers and their crimes. You had dark thoughts.
“Internet searches which you made before and after you killed Mrs Gregory paint a worrying picture.”
She said in due course it would be for others to assess whether Darnton could overcome whatever it was that drove his desire to kill and it would be the role of the Parole Board to decide when it would be safe to release him.
The judge went on: “It is hard to imagine the horror Mrs Gregory must have felt when she realised her house was on fire and was filling with smoke.
“Neighbours heard her screams. Despite her frailty, she tried to get out, but she had been trapped. The fire service found her near to the conservatory doors, where you had blocked her exit.
“Her final days were spent in hospital. Quite understandably, her condition in those days continues to haunt those who loved her. The manner of her death was particularly cruel.”
Mrs Gregory’s son, Peter, told the court: “The images of her in her final days haunt me.
“Mum’s death hit my whole family extremely hard. She was in reasonable health for a lady of almost 95 and I believe she would still be here with us today if Darnton had not killed her.
“Having learnt that my mum’s death was at the hands of Tiernan Darnton, whom we had willingly welcomed into our family home, is disgusting and shattering.
“He was frequently in mum’s house in the final months leading to mum’s death. She despised and distrusted him, and did not want him anywhere near her.
“I must live with the burden that my brother (Chris Gregory, Darnton’s stepfather) did not heed the warnings from his mother to stop him going into her house, and even gave him keys.”
He added that he never accepted that Mrs Gregory, who suffered from dementia, died in an accident.
She was discovered by firefighters under a table in the conservatory at the address in Levens Drive and died four days later in hospital from the effects of smoke inhalation.
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 conclusion of accidental death.
But in May 2019 Darnton told a counsellor about a friend “who could send me to prison cos of what he knows”.
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, in fact, had started the fatal blaze and the matter was later passed to the police by the counsellor, the court was told.
Giving evidence, Darnton said it was “all a big misunderstanding” and his confessions were false.
He said he only wanted to impress his “edgy” friends in the Truth or Dare game and was “attention-seeking” with the counsellor who he claimed had fabricated parts of their conversation.
The judge noted the counsellor had suffered the “dishonest attempts” by Darnton and his stepfather to portray her as a liar, despite looking continuing to look for the good in the defendant.