A man who poured white spirit over his wife and set her alight during what a judge called a “trivial and absurd” row over his Christmas presents has been jailed for eight years.
Out-of-work joiner Stephen Eastwood, 55, had packed a holdall with clothes his librarian wife Angela, 56, had given him for Christmas and threatened to leave her to stay with relatives.
But she snatched the bag back, and in a rage Eastwood went to the garage and got a bottle of white spirit, splashed some over her nightdress and flicked open a cigarette lighter to scare her.
A jury heard that instead of frightening his wife, he got too close and her clothes caught fire, with Mrs Eastwood suffering 15 per cent burns to her upper chest, neck and face.
She died in hospital four days later from the effects of the burns and inhaling fumes.
Eastwood, of Sycamore Drive, Thurcroft, Rotherham, had denied murdering his wife on December 31 last year but was found guilty of manslaughter at Sheffield Crown Court yesterday.
He wept into his handkerchief with relief after the jury delivered their verdict.
Jailing him, Mr Justice Openshaw said he had not intended the outcome but “pouring the spirit over her was an abusive act with reckless disregard for her safety”.
The couple, who celebrated their 10th wedding anniversary last Christmas Eve, were under stress because Eastwood was out of work and struggling to find a job but were otherwise generally happy.
Eastwood claimed his wife went up in flames accidentally because she was holding a lit cigarette but scientific evidence showed a cigarette would not ignite white spirit vapours.
During the trial, the prosecution had argued he deliberately ignited a naked flame and intended to set fire to her clothes and therefore cause her serious injury, if not kill her.
The court heard that Mrs Eastwood suffered the burns at about 5.30pm on December 27 last year but the couple initially did not realise how serious the burns were.
It was only half an hour later that Mr Eastwood took his wife to Rotherham Hospital. She was later transferred to Sheffield’s Northern General Hospital where she died last New Year’s Eve.
Eastwood told the court he had a “loving relationship” with his wife but after they had rowed she packed a holdall with his old working clothes.
As the argument escalated he went upstairs and repacked it with new clothes Angela had bought him for Christmas. He met his wife at the front door and she took the clothes out of the holdall one by one.
The judge said Eastwood had intended to burn the clothes which in itself was a “remarkably stupid and dangerous thing to do”.
The judge added: “It is clear that the defendant must have struck the light which started the fire presumably using a disposable lighter.
“I’m sure having struck the light he did not intend her to catch fire and did not intend the result.
“He attempted to scare her and held a naked flame close to her which ignited the white spirit on her dressing gown.”