A MAN who admitted murdering his midwife lover in a ‘rage’ at her home, then made a ‘poor attempt’ to cover his tracks with fake texts, has been jailed for life with a minimum term of 16 years.
Samantha Eastwood’s body was discovered in a shallow grave at Caverswall, Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire, wrapped in a duvet, with tape around her eyes and face, eight days after disappearing.
The midwife was reported missing by concerned colleagues on July 27 after she failed to show up for a night shift at Royal Stoke University Hospital.
Michael Stirling, 32, who is the brother-in-law of the victim’s former fiance John Peake, was jailed at Stafford Crown Court on Monday, as Miss Eastwood’s family watched from the public gallery.
Landscape gardener Stirling, of Gratton Road, Stoke, pleaded guilty to murdering the 28-year-old at a hearing in October.
His barrister Charles Miskin QC told the judge then that the killing had not been premeditated, but had followed a period of ‘growing tension’ between the couple, leading to a row at her home in Greenside Avenue, Stoke.
Stirling flew into an ‘intense rage’, suffocating and strangling his victim, before ‘panicking’ and burying Miss Eastwood’s body at a disused quarry.
Sentencing Stirling, Mrs Justice Susan Carr said: ‘Samantha was alone in her home where she should have been safe and sound, and trusted you in her house.
‘On any view, she suffered what must have been a terrifying assault resulting in a killing that was not immediate.
‘She would have been aware that she was being strangled and smothered to death.’
Stirling also tried to cover his tracks by duping Miss Eastwood’s family with text messages sent from her phone and pretending to help in searches for her after the alarm was raised.
Investigators tracked the phone’s movements to those of Stirling’s white Vauxhall Combo van as it travelled around on Saturday, July 28.
All the messages were sent between the phone and Miss Eastwood’s younger sister, 26-year-old Gemma Eastwood.
At 9.50am, Gemma Eastwood wrote to Samantha Eastwood: ‘Where are you. ring me to let me know you are safe.’
At 10.04am, Stirling replied from Samantha’s phone: ‘I love you all I’ve had a massive breakdown about stuff. I’m so sorry xx I’ll be ok I’m in touch with the helpline. I’m not going to do anything silly I just want to be left alone xx’.
Gemma replied: ‘Where are you let me come and see you I won’t tell anyone. Just let me come and see you I won’t tell anyone let me help you.’
At 10.13am, Stirling replied: ‘Please leave me alone x’.
Gemma replied: ‘Where are you, who are you with.
‘We are all worried the police are involved and going to do a press release, just tell me where you are I’ll come and meet you on my own and I won’t tell anyone.’
Stirling replied: ‘No Gem I’m sick of pretending I’m ok xx I’m going to go to the Dr’s I just need time to blow off some steam.’
At 12.45pm, Stirling appeared to seek to throw blame on to a third party by sending final messages, saying: ‘Gem, I’m in a car, blue BMW. He’s taking me to the motorway.
‘I’m sorry. I met a guy off the internet. He’s mad.’
The judge said: ‘You concocted a story to explain Samantha’s absence, sent false text messages and lied in interview.
‘You weaved an extraordinary web of deception.
‘The additional distress and trauma caused to Samantha’s family by these features has been and continues to be immense, not to mention the many hours and days spent by the police and volunteers looking for Samantha when you knew exactly where she was.’
She added: ‘Throughout this period you were repeatedly acting deliberately and without remorse; you were composed and callous.’