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Student tells friends he killed his stepgran, 94, in a game of Truth or Dare

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Tiernan Darnton 21, has been sentenced at Preston Crown Court to life imprisonment with a minimum term of 15 years. Mary Gregory was discovered under a table in the conservatory after a fire at her bungalow in Heysham, Lancashire, in May 2018 and died four days later in hospital.

The family of 94-year-old previously believed she was the victim of a tragic accident after an inquest ruled that she died from a dropped or carelessly discarded cigarette.

However, the case was reopened after Mr Darnton told a counsellor he had started the fire by settling a curtain alight with a lighter.

Police then discovered that the 21-year-old, had made a similar revelation several weeks after Mrs Gregory’s death, during a game of Truth or Dare with two friends.

A trial at Preston Crown Court heard how he told the pair: “I have a secret I haven’t told anyone. I may have killed someone.”

When pressed, Mr Darnton said he started the blaze because he did not want Mrs Gregory, formerly from Nuneaton, Warwickshire, to suffer any longer from dementia.

Mr Darnton’s friends did not believe him and he persuaded them to keep quiet, but then went on to tell the counsellor, almost a year later, about a friend “who could send me to prison cos of what he knows”.

He added that he had felt “powerful” at an event involving a person who had died – thought to be Mrs Gregory’s funeral – as he “knew what had happened and everyone else in the room didn’t”.

The female counsellor ended the session by saying to him “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 mouthed “Yes”, the court heard.

A week later he told the counsellor and his stepfather, Chris Gregory, 66, that he had started the fire and the matter was later passed to the police.

Mr Darnton, a former student at Kendal College and Lancaster & Morecambe College, was arrested at his family home in Combermere Road, Heysham, in May 2019.

Examination of his mobile phone and laptop found internet searches made after the fire including “I’m a murderer”, “I’m a monster and I’m going to hell”, “I want to cause evil” and “Urge to kill again”

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A month before the fatal blaze – when Mr Darnton was 17 – he also searched “Under 18 murder”

Giving evidence at his trial, Mr Darnton said the case was “all a big misunderstanding” and his confessions were false.

He said he only wanted to impress his “edgy” friends in the Truth or Dare game and felt he had to say something believable, although he knew it was “messed up”.

Mr Darnton said his comments to the counsellor that he had killed somebody were “attention-seeking” but denied saying he had set his step-grandmother’s house alight.

He claimed his Google searches were related to his interest in killers and true crime and said he did not even understand at the time the true definition in the law of murder.

Mr Gregory, giving evidence for the defence, said Mr Darnton – whom he home-schooled – had been suffering from depression for a number of years and was “plagued by intrusive thoughts which were very, very disturbing”.

Mr Darnton was found unanimously guilty by a jury and sentenced to life in prison with a minimum of 15 years.

Judge Mrs Justice Yip told him: “Murder had been on your mind for some time. On your own evidence, you were fascinated by serial killers and their crimes. You had dark thoughts.

She added: “Internet searches which you made before and after you killed Mrs Gregory paint a worrying picture.

Summing up, the judge said: “Your opportunity to act on your dark thoughts came when your stepfather was away. In the early hours of 28 May 2018, you went to Mrs Gregory’s home and deliberately started a fire in one of the bedrooms.”

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