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Man found guilty of the murder of an elderly grandmother after setting fire to her home

Thursday, November 11, 2021

A man has today (Thursday, November 11th) been found guilty of the murder of an elderly grandmother after setting fire to her home.

Tiernan Darnton, was found guilty by a unanimous jury for the murder of Heysham pensioner Mary Gregory in May 2018.

The 21-year-old of Heaton Road, Lancaster, was found guilty following a week-long trial at Preston Crown Court. He will be sentenced tomorrow (Friday, November12th).

Emergency services were called to Mrs Gregory’s bungalow on Levens Drive, Heysham, at shortly after 4am on May 28, 2018.

The 94-year-old was taken to hospital following the blaze but she sadly died on June 1st 2018. Her cause of death was given as pneumonia and smoke inhalation.

An initial joint investigation by police and Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service concluded the fire started as the result of a discarded cigarette and an inquest in

October 2018 concluded Mrs Gregory’s death was an accident.

However, following further information given to police in May 2019, when Darnton made a confession to his counsellor, a new investigation led by the Force Major Investigation Team was launched. 

Further enquiries led officers to conclude the fire had in fact been started deliberately.

Following a lengthy and complex police investigation, and after consultation with the Crown Prosecution Service, Darnton, was charged with the murder of Mary Gregory in March of this year.

The murder trial at Preston Crown Court, which concluded today, detailed a timeline of events from the morning of the fire including evidence that placed Darnton at Mrs Gregory’s house around the time of the fire. This featured a packet of Tunnock’s teacakes and a can of Coca Cola purchased at nearby Tibicar service station at 2.20am and later discovered in the kitchen at the scene.

Evidence shown to the jury also included drawings found at Darnton’s home address outlining the floorplan of Mrs Gregory’s bungalow. They contained labels including “good hiding place” and “quick exit” and references for needing a “good alibi”.

Darnton’s laptop was seized following his arrest which revealed internet searches from the days after the fire including; “Mental health support for murderers”, “Feeling guilty for murder.” and “I’m a monster and I’m going to hell.”

Our investigation also found that the spare key was missing from the outside key box, one of two smoke alarms at the property had been disabled and the home telephone was disconnected, meaning Mrs Gregory couldn’t call for help.

Detective Chief Inspector Zoe Russo from Lancashire Police Force Major Incident Team said: “Darnton regularly visited Mrs Gregory’s home after her son took him under his wing at a young age. Darnton would spend time at Mrs Gregory’s bungalow and not only took advantage of Mrs Gregory’s kind nature, he also used his access to her home to meticulously plan his murderous act.

“From his initial arrest and throughout Darnton has protested his innocence and put forward a concoction of lies in an effort to evade justice. And so, I want to express my gratitude to the prosecution team who have worked tirelessly to disprove those lies over many months and provided the catalogue of evidence which has ultimately proven his guilt.

“Our thoughts remain very much with Mrs Gregory’s family and friends. We hope this verdict provides them with some form of closure and they can now start moving forward with their lives.”

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