A student told his friends during a game of Truth or Dare that he had killed a 94-year-old woman in a house fire, a court has heard.
Tiernan Darnton, 20, shared his “darkest secret” weeks after the funeral of pensioner Mary Gregory, who died in her bungalow in Heysham, Lancashire, in May 2018, a jury was told.
He denies murder and an alternative count of manslaughter.
Darnton’s trial at Preston Crown Court heard on Monday that he persuaded his two friends not to say anything, but made similar admissions nearly a year later to a counsellor, who informed the police.
Mrs Gregory, a heavy smoker, was thought to have been the victim of a tragic accident.
She was found in the conservatory area of her property in Levens Drive in the early hours of 28 May and was carried out of the blaze by firefighters.
She was treated by paramedics for smoke inhalation and then taken to the Royal Lancaster Infirmary where she died on 1 June, 2018.
David McLachlan QC, opening the prosecution case, said after an initial investigation it was assumed the circumstances leading to her death were accidental, until Darnton’s remarks in a counselling session on 9 May, 2019.
Darnton spoke of a friend who “could send me to prison cos of what he knows” and went on to talk about an incident, said the prosecutor.
The court heard 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 Darnton nodded his head.
A week later, another session took place where the defendant was joined by his stepfather, Chris Gregory, the son of Mrs Gregory.
Mr McLachlan said Darnton mentioned about committing a crime.
He said: “It was at this stage, the prosecution say, that Chris Gregory said, ‘Is this all about my mum?’ and Tiernton Darnton volunteered, ‘I set fire to the curtains with a lighter’.
“Chris Gregory responded, ‘What, at three in the morning?’ and Tiernan Darnton replied, ‘Yes’.”
The court heard detectives then talked to Darnton’s friends, one of whom told of a Truth or Dare game they played weeks after the June 2018 funeral of Mrs Gregory.
Darnton was asked to reveal his “darkest secret” and said: “I have a secret I haven’t told anyone. I may have killed someone”, the court heard.
The prosecutor said that, when pressed, Darnton admitted he killed his “grandmother”, explained how he did it and said he did not want her to suffer any more as she had dementia.
Darnton was arrested in May 2019 at an address on Combermere Road, Heysham, and his mobile phone and computer were seized.
Examination of the devices revealed a number of Google searches in June 2018, including “murderer filled with despair”, “I’m a murderer” and “I’m a monster and I’m going to hell”, the court heard.
The jury was told Darnton made another search in August 2018 which read, “feeling guilty for putting a loved one out of their misery”.
Mr McLachlan said a fire examination expert would tell the trial the blaze was started by naked flame ignition near to the front bedroom window and not by dropping or carelessly disposing of a cigarette.
He said: “The prosecution’s case is that far from being a tragic accident, Mary Gregory’s death was brought about by Tiernan Darnton deliberately setting fire to her house.”
In a prepared statement to police, Darnton said that despite what he said to the counsellor he did not either deliberately or accidentally start the fire.
He went on to say his comments during the Truth or Dare game “had to be understood in the context of my mental health issues and in particular my attention seeking behaviour at that time”.
Darnton added he wanted to shock his “edgy” friends because he thought it would make them like him more.
The three-week trial continues on Tuesday.
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