‘Murdered South Yorkshire wife set on fire’

Ther Thurcroft home of Stephen Eastwood.
Ther Thurcroft home of Stephen Eastwood.
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A LIBRARIAN was engulfed in flames and died from horrific burns after being set on fire by her enraged husband, a court heard.

Stephen Eastwood, aged 55, is accused of dousing Angela Eastwood in white spirit before using a cigarette lighter to ignite it.

Mrs Eastwood, who was wearing pyjamas and a dressing gown at the time, suffered widespread burns which covered her entire face, as well as her neck and upper chest. Her airways were also damaged by inhaling fumes. She died four days later.

Sheffield Crown Court heard the out-of-work joiner grabbed the white spirit from the garage while arguing with his wife at their home on Sycamore Drive, Thurcroft, Rotherham.

He later told police the fire started by accident when he threatened to burn a holdall filled with clothes he had packed, ready to stay elsewhere for the night.

He claimed Mrs Eastwood, aged 56, became violent and the white spirit splashed over her while, unbeknown to him, she was holding a lit cigarette.

But Bryan Cox QC, prosecuting, said it would have been impossible to start the fire with a cigarette – and ‘a naked flame was essential’.

Mr Cox said: “Eastwood lost his temper.
“He went to the garage to get the white spirit – he knew it was flammable. He went straight back inside the house and poured it on Mrs Eastwood.

“A significant quantity of the liquid was poured on her and her clothing. He then ignited the spirit.”

Mr Cox said Eastwood tried to ‘concoct a story’ which he ‘refined as time passed’ to explain the incident on December 27, three days after the couple’s 10th wedding anniversary.

He said: “His intention was to set fire to her clothes and thereby cause her serious injury, if not kill her. He is, therefore, guilty of murder. The prosecution say what occurred was not an accident.”

The cause of her death, four days later, was recorded as pneumonia, but Mr Cox said the burns and breathing in the gases were underlying factors.

Susan Conway, a colleague of Mrs Eastwood’s at Greasborough library, said the couple’s relationship had been under stress as Eastwood was struggling to find jobs.

She said Mrs Eastwood could be ‘quite outspoken’, while her husband was sometimes ‘quiet and moody’.

The court heard the couple had visited Mrs Eastwood’s sister, Jennifer Scott, on Boxing Day.

They left at about 10.30pm and, according to Eastwood, argued in the car on the way home.

Eastwood slept on the sofa and was filmed on CCTV walking around Meadowhall alone the next afternoon.

Mr Cox said the fatal attack happened by 5.30pm, and Eastwood took Angela to Rotherham Hospital at just after 6pm.

He said Eastwood admitted to hospital staff he threw the white spirit, but changed his account several times.

Mrs Eastwood also denied her husband doused her in the liquid.

Mr Cox said: “She may have decided that she was not going to get her husband in trouble or she may have been frightened.”

When arrested on suspicion of assault, Eastwood said he had packed the holdall but his wife took it back and emptied it.

He said he told her ‘If I can’t take them, neither can you’, and went to fetch the white spirit.

He said she ‘went mad, waving her arms around and screaming’, causing the spirit to spill.

The trial continues.