Firefighters were called to a bungalow in Hesham, Lancashire, on May 28, 2018, due to a major fire. Rescuers quickly found 94-year-old Mary Gregory, under a table in the storage room. Four days later, she died in hospital due to the large amount of smoke she inhaled.
The investigation concluded that the fire that killed Gregory might have been accidental, and the coroner agreed. A year later, that suddenly changed. Police reopened the investigation after Tiernan Darnton, then 19, spoke during a “truth, dare or deed” game with two friends.
Then he told how he set the deadly fire in the house of his grandmother’s wife by setting fire to the curtains with a lighter. “I have a secret that I never told anyone. He said, ‘Maybe I killed someone.’” When asked for further clarification, the then-teenager said he set the fire because he didn’t want his grandmother to live with dementia. His friends didn’t believe him and convinced him not to say anything else about him. .
But Darnton was not silent. A young worker told in May 2019 that a friend “has information about him that should send him to prison”. He added that he felt “very strong” on one occasion – perhaps his grandmother’s funeral – because he was the only person in the room who knew what had happened to the deceased. “Tell me now that you killed someone?” asked the young man, assured Darnton. A week later, he and his stepfather Chris Gregory told her he had set the fire.
Then the police reopened the case, and during questioning, Darnton told the whole story. He told how he set up a table in front of the storage room door, cut the telephone cable and disassembled the smoke alarm. All this to prevent his grandmother’s wife from escaping. In his house agents even found drawings on which he had made the plan. She said things like “good shelter,” “escape highway,” and “good excuse.” Investigators found on his cell phone and laptop several searches after the fire, including “I’m a killer” and “I’m a monster and I’m going to hell.”
At the murder trial, Darnton attempted to dismiss the case as a “big misunderstanding” and claimed that his confessions had been lied to impress friends. “I know how sick this is of me,” he said. He said it was a cry for attention. But the judge did not believe him and sentenced him to life imprisonment, with a minimum of 15 years.