Kendal widower accused of murder tells court he loved victim "like a daughter" (From The Westmorland Gazette)
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Kendal widower accused of murder tells court he loved victim "like a daughter"
12:55pm Tuesday 19th June 2012 in News
A DISABLED widower accused of murdering a Kendal woman by setting her on fire has told a court he loved her “like a daughter”.
Terrence Armer, 61, told a jury at Carlisle Crown Court he had been friends with 35-year-old Stacey Mackie after meeting her in hospital where they were both being treated for mental problems.
The court heard Armer, of Buttery Well Road, Kendal, had been married in 1974 and had two daughters before being divorced in 1986.
In 1989 he met a new partner and lived with her for 21 years before she died of breast cancer in December 2010.
He said her death affected him “badly”, causing the mental problems he was experiencing when he met Ms Mackie in January 2011.
He also had had 19 operations for a tumour on his spine, which had left him hunched up and “completely mis-shapen”, and having to use the wheelchair upon which he enters court each day.
He said that his friendship with Ms Mackie meant that they often spent time together and phoned and sent text messages to each other almost every day.
“We were just like father and daughter,” he said. “If she wanted help she would ring for it. If she was feeling down she would ring me up.”
Armer said that after spending time together over Christmas and New Year, he told Ms Mackie to stay away because he was not feeling well.
She replied with a text message saying: “Well, if you want it that way we will finish it.”
He said that, in a string of text messages and phone calls, he tried to find out what he had done wrong.
Then, on the evening of January 27 – after he had finished painting his bathroom – he took a taxi to her sheltered flat in Crag View.
“I still wanted to know why we had stopped speaking to each other and why she had stopped sending me messages,” he said. “I had done nothing wrong so I wanted to know why.”
Armer said he arrived at Ms Mackie’s flat with an axe and an old screwdriver – which he used to try to get in until she opened the door – but said that was only because his taxi had arrived before he had time to throw them away as he intended.
He said that he noticed Ms Mackie was “quiet”, but he did not talk to her because once inside the flat he needed to go to the lavatory.
“After about three minutes I came out of the bathroom and there was smoke coming out from under the living room door,” he said. “I opened the door a little way black smoke came out. Thick black smoke. And there were flames too. All of a sudden it went black and I went over to the window and stayed there.”
Armer said he had not seen Ms Mackie in the burning living room, or heard her moving about or crying for help.
He said two police officers outside the window shouted at him to smash the glass so he could get some air, but he had been unable to do so.
He said he fell in and out of consciousness until two firefighters got in, helped him out and gave him oxygen.
Armer denied prosecution claims that he had gone to Ms Mackie’s flat with a bottle of white spirit, intending to kill her.
He said that any traces of white spirit on his clothes must have been left from when he cleaned some paint brushes after painting his bathroom earlier in the day.
And he said a burn on his arm – for which he was given first aid after being removed from Ms Mackie’s flat – had been caused by his accidentally touching his oven while cleaning it earlier in the week.
The court heard that Ms Mackie managed to stagger from the flat before police and fire officers could reach her, but by then she had suffered 95 per cent burns which doctors said were “unsurvivable”.
Before she died in hospital 15 hours later, she told police it was Armer who had attacked her.
Among the first witnesses in the trial were two police officers who needed medical treatment after inhaling smoke while desperately trying to rescue Ms Mackie from her flat.
Constables David Colven and Christopher Chapman tried twice to get into the flat in Crag View, Kendal, after arriving there to find thick smoke and flames seeping from around the door.
But both times they were driven back by a “thick wall” of flames and acrid fumes.
As they stood outside gasping for breath on the landing, Ms Mackie staggered out of the flat, with her clothes and body on fire.
In a written statement PC Colven described how he was one of several officers who had gone to Crag View after reports that a man had gone into one of the flats – all sheltered accommodation for people with mental health difficulties – armed with an axe.
When he reached the landing outside Ms Mackie’s flat he saw “smoke billowing from under the door and flames flickering” behind it.
PC Colven said he tried to kick in the locked door at least ten times and ran at it with a fire extinguisher, but all to no avail.
A colleague fetched a ram, known as an “enforcer”, from his car and with two blows split the door down the middle so they could get in.
“But there was a thick wall of flames and fumes and I only got a couple of feet inside before the smoke got too much,” he said.
The officer said he retreated, but tried again, only to be driven out again.
And as he stood outside the flat “a small woman charred and clearly badly burned” came out, with “parts of her body on fire”, he said.
PC Christopher Chapman said in another statement that he fetched the “enforcer” after seeing it was impossible to get through the door.
“As the door opened I could see flames and a big cloud of smoke poured out,” he said.
He added: “The smoke was so thick and acrid all the officers had to retreat from the flat.”
Then, he said, he noticed Ms Mackey walking out with “most of her clothes burned off, but some still on her, smouldering”.
PC Chapman said he and his colleague made another attempt to get into the flat, and this time got to the window where they found Armer “struggling to get his face to an area where he could breathe.”
The prosecution say that Armer looked upon Ms Mackie as his girlfriend and that a few days before her death he had been warned by the police to stop sending her abusive text messages after she ended their friendship.
Staff from the sheltered housing unit in which Ms Mackie lived told the court they were aware that she and the male friend she called Terry had fallen out.
The jury heard Ms Mackie was living in sheltered accommodation because of psychiatric problems which, the previous year, had seen her being treated in the hospital where she met Armer.
She talked of hearing voices, some of which told her to harm herself, and had previously taken overdoses.
“She had her ups and downs with her mental illness and was in and out of hospital,” project worker Tracey Lightley said in evidence.
Miss Lightley said Ms Mackie told her on January 16 that there had been a fall-out after Christmas and Armer was telling her to return the presents he had given her.
“She was quite a sociable person although she said she had no interest in having boyfriends,” Miss Lightley said. “She always told me that she and Terry were just friends and it was nothing else”.
The next day, she said, Ms Mackie told her she had been receiving a string of unwanted text messages and phone calls and she advised her to tell the police.
Another project worker, Christine Alty, said: “Terry had sent her flowers and given her a silver bracelet and she felt he wanted more than being friends, but she didn’t go into any details.”
The jury heard a tape recording of five messages Armer left on Ms Mackie’s phone on January 16.
In the first three he was gently asking why she had ended their relationship.
In one he said: “Sorry, Stacey, if I have hurt you . . . Sorry, love, if I have upset you in any way.”
In another he told her: “I love you to bits. I love you like my own daughter. I am sorry I have lost your friendship.”
But by the fourth message his mood seemed to have hardened. “I would love to know what I have done wrong to you. So will you please let me know? Thank you.”
And in the fifth –after the police had called - he angrily told her: “Don’t you ever send the police around here. I have enough of you and your lesbian friends. Just keep away from me.”
PC Andrew Beard told the jury in a statement that he had called on Armer as a result of Ms Mackie’s complaint.
He said Armer kept repeating that all he wanted was his property back.
“He was generally being abusive and obnoxious, swearing all the time,” he said. “But that seemed to be his normal way of talking.”
Taxi driver Steven Whitehouse told the jury that a week or so before the fire Armer – whom he had known for more than 20 years - had told him he was "angry and upset" with Ms Mackie because she had complained to the police about the text messages.
“He was calling her names like ‘bitch’ and ‘slag’, and said he had done a lot of things for her, lending her money and stuff like that,” he said. “He was just ranting. He said he would never do anything for her again.”
Mr Whitehouse said he did not think it was "anything serious" and put it down as the sort of relationship problem he heard about every day from passengers in his taxi.