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Husband, 80, who murdered 'loving, kind and courageous' wife, 77, in car fire to die in jail
9 February 2024, 14:50 | Updated: 9 February 2024, 15:10
An 80-year-old man who murdered his wife of more than 50 years by setting fire to her in their car will spend the rest of his life in jail.
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David Clarke, aged 80, of Langland, Swansea, was sentenced to 21 years and eight months at Swansea Crown Court on Friday.
His wife, Helen Clarke, 77, who was described as "loving, kind and courageous", died of multiple organ failure after suffering serious burns in a fire deliberately started by her husband.
Before starting the fire, Clarke had repeatedly hit Helen with a hammer.
In court, Clarke pleaded guilty to the crime at a hearing in December last year.
The court heard the circumstances and events that led up to Mrs Clarke's death and the family's shock at what he had done.
Clarke was a trained electrical engineer and former competition shooter.
He and Helen met 55 years ago at a church service and then married in 1968. Together, they had four children.
The family moved to Zambia and then later to Zimbabwe - then called Rhodesia.
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".
The court heard the couple had begun to seriously argue again days before the incident after Clarke revealed he had an affair some years prior and had planned a recent holiday to Australia to see the woman again.
On the day of Helen's murder, Clarke sent a text message to his children telling them he loved them.
Then, under the act of taking his wife to the beach, he drove her to Sketty Lane.
There, he hit her nine times with a hammer and covered her with flammable liquid.
A passing council workman, heard Mrs Clarke's screams and noticing flames from the car and 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".
Emergency services arrived at the scene and attempted to help the severely injured Mrs Clarke.
She told them repeatedly: "My husband has done this".
Two days later on September 24, 2023, Helen died at Morriston Hospital.
Passing his sentence, 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 - and sentenced him to life in prison.
The judge offered condolences to Mrs Clarke's family and commended the council workman for being "brave and public-spirited".
Following the sentencing, 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."
Mrs Clarke's family issued a statement following the sentencing.
They 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."
The statement continued: "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."