David Clarke: Man, 80, who murdered wife of 50 years by setting fire to car, gets life sentence
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An 80-year-old man who killed his wife of more than 50 years by setting fire to her in their car will spend the rest of his life in jail. David Clarke, was heard that he repeatedly hit his wife, Helen Clarke, 77, with a lump hammer before starting the fire.
Mrs Clarke, who has been described as "loving" and "courageous" by their children, died of multiple organ failure after suffering serious burns in the fire. Clarke, from Swansea, pleaded guilty to the crime at a hearing in December last year, and was sentenced to 21 years and eight months at Swansea Crown Court on Friday (February 9).
Mr Clarke was a trained electrical engineer and former competition shooter. He met his wife at a church service 55 years ago and they married in 1968. The couple had four children.
In a witness statement, son David Clarke Junior described how his parents had a history of arguments, with his father occasionally resorting to violence and intimidation toward his mother. However, he believed that over time, they had "mellowed with age".
The court was told that the couple had resumed serious arguments in the days leading up to the incident, triggered by Mr Clarke's admission of an affair years prior and his recent arrangement of a trip to Australia to see the woman involved. On the day of the tragic event, Clarke sent a message to his children telling them he loved them.
Then, he lured his wife under the pretext of a trip to the beach but instead drove her to Sketty Lane, where he viciously attacked her with a hammer and doused her with a flammable liquid. A council worker passing by heard Mrs Clarke's cries and saw flames emanating from the car, prompting him to intervene, but Clarke forcibly prevented him from doing so before fleeing and crashing into a hedge.
Witnesses described the car subsequently erupting into 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.
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.”
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.”