A student confessed to friends during a game of truth or dare his “darkest secret” was that he killed his 94-year-old grandmother in a house fire, a jury has heard.
Tiernan Darnton, 20, allegedly made the confession weeks after the funeral of Mary Gregory, who died after a blaze at her bungalow in Heysham, Lancashire in May 2018.
Preston Crown Court heard Mrs Gregory, who was a heavy smoker and had dementia, was treated by paramedics for smoke inhalation after being found in the property but was pronounced dead at Royal Lancaster Infirmary three days later.
David McLachlan QC, prosecuting, told the jury that Mrs Gregory’s death was thought accidental until Mr Darnton revealed his involvement in a 2019 counselling session.
He said Mr Darnton had spoken about a friend in the counselling session who “could send me to prison [because] of what he knows”. He added that the counsellor then ended the session, responding: “I’m not really clear what you’re saying, but I think you’re trying to tell me you’ve killed someone”, to which Mr Darnton nodded his head.
The court heard that in a session a week later Mr Darton’s stepfather Chris Gregory – who is Mrs Gregory’s son – joined and asked if his son’s mention of crime was “all about my mum”.
Mr McLachlan said that in response, Mr Darnton volunteered: “I set fire to the curtains with a lighter.”
The court heard officers had then spoken to Mr Darnton’s friends, who revealed details of a truth or dare game played weeks after Mrs Gregory’s funeral.
Giving evidence, Alix Cozens said: “He told us that he had killed somebody. I just questioned what he meant by it.
“He said he did it because he didn’t want her to suffer any more.”
Mr McLachlan asked her: “Did you believe him?”
She replied: “Not at first because of watching horror films and CSI films, I thought “you are bluffing’.”
Ms Cozens said Mr Darnton told them that following the fire he returned home, got changed and went back to bed.
Her friend, Liz Collinge, said before revealing his secret, Mr Darnton said he did not want them to “think any different about him”.
The witness said: “We thought that it was a joke.”
Mr Darnton was arrested in May 2019 and his mobile phone and computer were taken and examined. Police found searches in June 2018 for “murderer filled with despair”, “I’m a murderer” and “I’m a monster and I’m going to hell”. A month later, another search was made for “feeling guilty for putting a loved one out of their misery”, the court heard.
Mr McLachlan said it was the prosecution’s case that Mrs Gregory’s death was “far from being a tragic accident” and that a fire examination expert would tell the jury the blaze was started by naked flame ignition near to the front bedroom window and not by a discarded cigarette.
The court also heard in a statement to police, Mr Darnton claimed that despite what he said to the counsellor, he did not deliberately or accidentally start the fire and his admission to his friends was “attention seeking behaviour” in an attempt to shock them so they would like him more.
Mr Darnton denies murder and an alternative count of manslaughter. The trial continues.