An 80-year-old man who repeatedly hit his elderly wife with a lump hammer before setting her on fire in their car has been jailed for the rest of his life.
David Clarke, of Langland, Swansea, was sentenced to 21 years and eight months at the city’s crown court on Friday, for murdering Helen, his wife of more than 50 years.
The 77-year-old, who has been described as “loving, kind and courageous”, died of multiple organ failure after suffering serious burns.
The sentencing judge said Clarke had killed her in “an utterly brutal and merciless manner” knowing she would be caused “an unimaginable pain and terror”.
The trained electrical engineer and former competition shooter had pleaded guilty to murder at a hearing in December last year.
The couple, who met at a church service and married in 1968, had four children.
In a witness statement, his son, David Clarke Junior, said his parents had always argued, with his father sometimes being violent and bullying towards his mother, but thought they had “mellowed with age”.
Victim hit nine times with a hammer
The court heard the couple had begun to seriously argue again in the days before the incident, after Clarke revealed he had an affair some years prior and had orchestrated a recent holiday to Australia to see the woman again.
On the day of the murder, Clarke sent a text message to his children telling them he loved them.
Then, under the pretence of taking his wife to the beach, he drove her to Sketty Lane, where he hit her nine times with a hammer and doused her in petrol.
Car went up in ‘big ball of flames’
A passing council workman, hearing Mrs Clarke’s screams and noticing flames from the car, attempted to save the couple – but Clarke pushed him away before driving off and crashing into a hedge.
The car was then described as going up in a “big ball of flames”.
The emergency services arrived at the scene and attempted to help the severely injured Mrs Clarke.
She told them repeatedly “my husband has done this”.
She died two days later on September 24, 2023, at Morriston Hospital.
‘Children were on the way to school’
Jailing Clarke for life, Judge Paul Thomas KC said: “In September last year, you killed your wife of over 50 years.
“You killed her in an utterly brutal and merciless manner.
“You killed her in a car on a busy road in Swansea, where children were on the way to school.
“You hit her repeatedly to the head with a lump hammer, you did so on no fewer than nine occasions.
“You then doused her with petrol and set fire to her.
“You knew that in setting fire to her, she would be caused an unimaginable pain and terror.”
Judge Thomas called the attack “savage” and said Clarke had appeared to show no remorse for his actions.
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He offered his condolences to Mrs Clarke’s family and commended the council workman for being “brave and public-spirited”.
‘Our grief is immeasurable’
In a statement, Mrs Clarke’s family said: “Our mother was a loving, kind and courageous woman who greatly cherished her family, her friends, and the world at large.
“She was strongly committed to her faith, had a laugh which would set a room alight, and a great appreciation for life and the beauty of the world.
“Her passing in such a sudden and tragic manner has been devastating and our grief is immeasurable. The situation we find ourselves in highlights the complexity and fragility of the human mind.”
It added: “To the police, the coroner’s office, the CPS, Victim Support, and our mother’s legal team, thank you for your continued support and professionalism in ensuring justice is achieved.
“The process for our family has been extremely distressing and we are grateful for your sensitivity and guidance.
“The system is however far from perfect, and we will continue to advocate for victims’ rights and legislative change.
“Finally, whilst some may consider this a newsworthy story, it is our private tragedy – one that continues to have a dramatic impact not only on our mental wellbeing, but on our entire lives, particularly of our children.
“We ask that our privacy is respected as we continue to find the strength and fortitude to guide them through our family tragedy as best we can.”
Detective chief inspector Paul Raikes, from South Wales Police, said: “This has been a challenging investigation due to its nature and circumstances.
“To this end, I would like to place on record our condolences to the family of Helen Clarke, and thank them for their cooperation and understanding during extremely difficult times for them.”