Man who mur­dered lover is jailed for life


THE sis­ter of a mid­wife bru­tally mur­dered by her lover has told the killer she was ‘haunted’ by the false com­fort he gave the fam­ily hours af­ter the death.

Michael Stir­ling was stared down in the dock by Sa­man­tha East­wood’s younger sib­ling dur­ing her emo­tional ev­i­dence as she said his ac­tions had robbed her of a ‘sis­ter, men­tor and best friend’.

The land­scape gar­dener was jailed for life with a min­i­mum term of 16 years, 299 days, af­ter pre­vi­ously ad­mit­ting the mur­der of the Mac­cles­field mid­wife, at Stafford Crown Court

Stir­ling was brother-in­law of the vic­tim’s for­mer fi­ancé John Peake, who was in court along with her sis­ter, Gemma East­wood, and mother, Ca­role.

Sen­tenc­ing him to serve a min­i­mum of 16 years in prison, Mrs Jus­tice Su­san Carr told Stir­ling: “Sa­man­tha was alone in her home where she should have been safe and sound, and trusted you in her house.

“On any view, she suf- fered what must have been a ter­ri­fy­ing as­sault re­sult­ing in a killing that was not im­me­di­ate.”

She added he then ‘weaved an ex­tra­or­di­nary web of de­cep­tion’, caus­ing im­mense dis­tress to the fam­ily, in­clud­ing send­ing fake texts pre­tend­ing to be from Miss East­wood.

The judge said: “Through­out this pe­riod you were re­peat­edly act­ing de­lib­er­ately and with­out re­morse; you were com­posed and cal­lous.”

Miss East­wood, de­scribed in court as a ‘fan­tas­tic mid­wife’ who worked at the Royal Stoke Uni­ver­sity Hospi­tal and ‘bub­bly’, was buried by Stir­ling near a dis­used quarry in Caver­swall, Stafford­shire.

The 32-year-old, of Grat­ton Road, Stoke, had told his wife he was out search­ing for then-miss­ing Miss East­wood, while in fact he was con­ceal­ing her re­mains.

Stir­ling placed the vic­tim in­side a du­vet cover taken from her home, and wrapped in tape cov­er­ing the eyes, mouth and nose, be­fore dig­ging a shal­low hole with his work spade.

He claimed to have stran­gled and smoth­ered the vic­tim in her bed­room in a ‘fog of anger’, af­ter al­leg­ing he wanted to bring their three year­af­fair to an end.

But in text mes­sages sent to Miss East­wood, the day he killed her, Stir­ling said: “Please come back, it’s killing me. I want to give up with­out you.”

In the last of the two mes­sages, he added: “I hope you know what trou­ble you’re caus­ing xxx come back please, asap.”

Open­ing the case, bar­ris­ter Jonas Hankin QC said it was the pros­e­cu­tion’s case Stir­ling was ‘hound­ing’ the mid­wife, mak­ing 128 phone calls to her in July alone.

He ar­rived at her home in Green­side Av­enue, Stoke-on-Trent, on the morn­ing of July 27, be­fore go­ing to work, and re­turn­ing be­tween 12.45pm1pm.

At 3pm, a neigh­bour heard a woman scream­ing for ‘be­tween 15 to 30 sec­onds’, and then a woman shout­ing ‘get off, get off me’.

Miss East­wood was smoth­ered and stran­gled in her bed­room, in an at­tack last­ing up to half a minute. Mr Hankin said: “The killing was un­doubt­edly bru­tal.” CCTV from a house op­po­site Miss East­wood’s then showed Stir­ling rev­ers­ing his white Vaux­hall Combo panel van up her drive­way at about 5pm.

Mr Hankin said: “Shortly there­after, the pros­e­cu­tion says he must have put Sa­man­tha’s body into the back of the van.”

Af­ter the mur­der, Stir­ling, who would later tell po­lice of­fi­cers he ‘ gen­uinely loved’ Miss East­wood, texted his wife Katie, with whom he has a four-year-old daugh­ter.

In the mes­sage, sent at 5.15pm, he said: “Meet you at mum and dad’s, love you xxx”.

Eat­ing sup­per, with his fam­ily, his wife re­mem­bered him be­ing ‘fine and cheer­ful’, the court heard, with the judge de­scrib­ing his ‘ com­posed and cal­lous’ per­for­mance as ‘chilling’.

Mr Hankin said: “He drove to his par­ents’ house, park­ing the van, which must still have con­tained Sa­man­tha’s body.”

She was re­ported miss­ing by work col­leagues that evening, af­ter fail­ing to show for her night shift.

Her ex-fi­ance, Mr Peake went straight to her home, find­ing her un­used wed­ding dress, en­gage­ment ring and greet­ings cards - from him - ly­ing on her bed.

Mr Peake told the court he be­lieved they were a ploy by the killer ‘to point the blame in my di­rec­tion’, af­ter their en­gage­ment and re­la­tion­ship had ended in Jan­uary 2018, in part be­cause of Stir­ling’s on-go­ing af­fair.

Stir­ling, un­der what the judge called the ‘pre­tence’ of go­ing out to help look for Sa­man­tha, show­ered, changed, and then buried his lover near the old quarry. Af­ter­wards, he went to Miss East­wood’s house, where friends and fam­ily had gath­ered, act­ing ‘wor­ried and con­cerned’ and hug­ging her sis­ter Gemma.

In court, Gemma East­wood fixed Stir­ling with a stare, as she said: “I will never get a chance to see my sis­ter or speak to her on the phone, be­cause of what he did to my sis­ter.” “Be­fore he left my sis­ter’s house that night he hugged me, af­ter he had killed my sis­ter. For­ever this will haunt me,” she added.

The day af­ter the killing, Stir­ling sent mes­sages off Miss East­wood’s mo­bile phone to her sis­ter, pre­tend­ing to be from Sa­man­tha.

In those texts, he said: “I just want to be left alone.”

He also claimed the she was with a man she met ‘off the in­ter­net’.

The judge de­scribed the send­ing of those mes­sages as acts of ‘breath- tak­ing cru­elty’.

Stir­ling, who was ar­rested once and re­leased be­fore Miss East­wood’s re­mains were found, was un­done when he was seen by po­lice cy­cling back to the area of the makeshift grave to check it was undis­turbed.

The area was sub­se­quently searched by po­lice, the body dis­cov­ered, and elec­tri­cal tape used to wrap the du­vet sheet found to match that in Stir­ling’s van.

You were re­peat­edly act­ing de­lib­er­ately and with­out re­morse; you were com­posed and cal­lous

Michael Stir­ling, and in­set, Gemma East­wood speak­ing out­side court

Mur­dered mid­wife Sa­man­tha East­wood, 28

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