Daily Mail

Jailed for 17 years, lover who sent texts from mid­wife’s phone to cover up her mur­der

- By Andy Dolan

‘Ex­tra­or­di­nary web of de­cep­tion’

A LAND­SCAPE gar­dener ‘bru­tally’ mur­dered a mid­wife he was hav­ing an af­fair with be­fore cre­at­ing a false trail by send­ing texts from her phone and laying her wed­ding dress on her bed. Po­lice last night com­pared Michael Stir­ling’s du­plic­ity af­ter he stran­gled Sa­man­tha East­wood to that of So­ham child killer Ian Hunt­ley. Stir­ling taped his vic­tim’s body up in a du­vet cover, bind­ing her eyes and nose with mask­ing tape, then bun­dled her corpse into the back of his van and drove to his par­ents’ home for a fam­ily meal. Over the next 24 hours, the mar­ried fa­ther of one told Miss East­wood’s friends and fam­ily that she had been up­set about prob­lems at work when he had last seen her. He then sent a se­ries of texts to his vic­tim’s sis­ter Gemma from the mid­wife’s mo­bile phone, a court heard yes­ter­day. These gave her fam­ily false com­fort that she was alive and sim­ply in need of ‘some time for me’. Stir­ling, 32, also brazenly hugged Gemma just hours af­ter bury­ing Miss East­wood in a shal­low grave. He caused fur­ther dis­tress by pre­tend­ing in a fi­nal few texts from the mid­wife’s phone that she was be­ing ‘driven to the mo­tor­way’ by a ‘mad man’ she had met on­line. The court heard that Stir­ling went on to send two texts to Miss East­wood’s phone, beg­ging her to come home. The gar­dener had been hav­ing a three­year re­la­tion­ship with Miss East­wood which had al­ready led in part to the end of her en­gage­ment to his wife Katie’s brother John Peake, Stafford Crown Court heard. Yes­ter­day, Mr Peake, 34, stared at Stir­ling dur­ing the hear­ing which ended with the emo­tion­less de­fen­dant be­ing handed a life sen­tence with a min­i­mum of 17 years. Mr Peake de­scribed how he had ob­tained a spare key for Miss East­wood’s home in Bad­de­ley Green, Stokeon-Trent, from Stir­ling – who kept his work tools in her garage – af­ter the mid­wife’s col­leagues raised the alarm on July 27 when she failed to re­port for a night shift. Mr Peake said he had hoped to rekin­dle his seven-year re­la­tion­ship with her and start a fam­ily. He de­scribed find­ing her wed­ding dress on her bed, sur­rounded by birth­day cards he had sent her and her en­gage­ment ring. The rail­way en­gi­neer said he be­lieved the items had been placed there to ‘point the blame in my di­rec­tion’, adding that the body found in un­der­growth at a dis­used quarry near Caver­swall, Stafford­shire, eight miles away, was also close to his work­place. Pros­e­cu­tor Jonas Hankin QC de­scribed how, af­ter killing Miss East­wood at her home and load­ing her body into his Vauxhall Combo van, Stir­ling sent a text to his wife Katie, 32, ar­rang­ing din­ner with his par­ents. Af­ter din­ner, the cou­ple drove back to their house in North­wood, Stoke-on-Trent. The court heard he re­ceived a text from Gemma af­ter 9pm say­ing Miss East­wood was miss­ing. Stir­ling went out to ‘search’ for her, with her body still in his van. He told his wife he was go­ing out to search at lo­cal pubs, but his van was caught on CCTV driv­ing to the burial site at 10.30pm, re­turn­ing 40 min­utes later. Stir­ling went out to ‘search’ again at mid­night, but headed to Miss East­wood’s home, where he feigned con­cern to Gemma. He told po­lice he had been at the mid­wife’s home ear­lier that day – when a neigh­bour had re­ported hear­ing a woman scream­ing ‘get off me’ from the vicin­ity of the house. That made him the last per­son to see her alive. Mr Hankin said: ‘He was com­posed and cal­lous. He spoke calmly to his wife on the tele­phone while he was bury­ing Sa­man­tha’s body. The killing was un­doubt­edly bru­tal.’ Stir­ling was ar­rested that week­end on sus­pi­cion of kid­nap but was re­leased the next day. The killer ended up lead­ing po­lice to the body af­ter he was seen cy­cling to a lay-by and dis­ap­pear­ing into the bushes. The grave was found two days later and Stir­ling was ar­rested for mur­der. Stir­ling claimed to have bound Miss East­wood’s eyes and nose be­cause ‘he didn’t want to see her like that’, and he wanted to pro­tect her face dur­ing the burial. De­fence bar­ris­ter Charles Miskin QC out­lined how Stir­ling stran­gled her on the bed­room floor in a ‘fog of anger’ af­ter Stir­ling claimed she had taunted him over ‘how his daugh­ter would feel that her fa­ther loved some­one more than the daugh­ter’s mother’. Stir­ling ad­mit­ted mur­der at a pre­vi­ous hear­ing. Sen­tenc­ing him yes­ter­day, Mrs Jus­tice Su­san Carr ac­cused the de­fen­dant of weav­ing an ‘ex­tra­or­di­nary web of de­cep­tion’ and a ‘so­phis­ti­cated and men­da­cious cover-up’. De­tec­tive In­spec­tor Dan Ison, of Stafford­shire Po­lice, high­lighted the ‘cal­lous’ na­ture in which Stir­ling buried Miss East­wood and then hugged her dis­traught 26year-old sis­ter. ‘I liken his ac­tions to that of Ian Hunt­ley,’ he said.

 ??  ?? Tragedy: Sa­man­tha East­wood had been hav­ing an af­fair with killer Michael Stir­ling, above
Tragedy: Sa­man­tha East­wood had been hav­ing an af­fair with killer Michael Stir­ling, above
 ??  ?? Sa­man­tha, left, with for­mer fi­ance and Stir­ling, right, and his wife
Sa­man­tha, left, with for­mer fi­ance and Stir­ling, right, and his wife
 ??  ??

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