A college student told friends in a game of Truth or Dare that he had killed a 94-year-old woman in a house fire, a jury has heard.
Mary Gregory is believed to have been the victim of a tragic accident at her bungalow in Heysham, Lancashire, in May 2018.
But Tiernan Darnton, 20, revealed to friends that he was responsible for her death weeks after her funeral, Preston Crown Court was told.
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The jury heard that he persuaded his two friends not to say anything about the revelations, but almost a year later, he continued to admit similarities to an adviser, who passed the case on to the police.
Dementia-stricken and heavy smoker Mrs. Gregory was found in the conservatory of the burning property in Levens Drive in the early hours of May 28 and was carried out by firefighters, the court heard.
She was treated by paramedics for smoke inhalation and then taken to the Royal Lancaster Infirmary, where she sadly died four days later.
David McLachlan QC, who opened the prosecution, said that after an initial investigation, it was assumed that the circumstances leading up to her death were coincidental, until the remarks of the murder accused in a counseling session on May 9, 2019.
Darnton talked about a friend who “could send me to jail because of what he knows” and went on to talk about an incident, the prosecutor said.
The female counselor ended the session by saying to him “I’m not quite sure what you’re saying, but I think you’re trying to tell me you killed someone,” to which Darnton nodded.
One week later, another session took place in which the defendant was joined by his stepfather Chris Gregory, son of Mrs. Gregory.
McLachlan said Darnton mentioned committing a crime.
He said: “It was at this point, prosecutors say, that Chris Gregory said, ‘Is it all about my mother?’ And Tiernton Darnton volunteered ‘I set the curtains on fire with a lighter’.
“Chris Gregory replied ‘What, at 3:00 in the morning?’ and Tiernan Darnton answered “Yes”.
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A police investigation ensued, prompting detectives to speak with Darton’s friends, one who told of a Truth or Dare game they played weeks after Mrs. Gregory’s funeral in June 2018.
Darnton was asked to reveal his “darkest secret”, saying “I have a secret I have not told anyone. I may have killed someone”, the court heard.
When he was pressured, the prosecutor said, the defendant admitted that he killed his “grandmother”, explained how he did it, and said he did not want her to suffer any more as she had dementia.
Darnton was arrested in May 2019 at an address in Combermere Road, Heysham, and his cell phone and computer were seized.
Investigation of the devices revealed a series of Google searches in June 2018, including “killer filled with despair”, “I’m a killer” and “I’m a monster and I’m going to hell for”.
Darnton conducted another search in August 2018, which read “feeling guilty for having put a loved one out of their misery”, the court heard.
McLachlan told the jury that a fire investigation expert would tell them that the fire was started by open fire near the bedroom window in front and not by dropping or carelessly disposing of a cigarette.
He said: “The prosecution’s case is that far from being a tragic accident, Mary Gregory’s death was caused by Tiernan Darnton who deliberately set fire to her house.”
In a prepared statement to police, Darnton said that despite what he said to the adviser, he did not start the fire on purpose or even by accident.
He went on to say that his comments during the Truth or Dare game “had to be understood in the context of my mental health issues and especially my attention-seeking behavior at the time”.
Darnton added that he would shock his “edgy” friends because he thought it would make them like him more.
He denies murder and an alternative charge of manslaughter.
The three-week trial continues.
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