05 July 2023

Man who doused wife in petrol and set her alight jailed for minimum of 18 years

05 July 2023

A man has been sentenced to a minimum of 18 years in prison for murdering his wife by setting her alight in a car after throwing petrol over her.

Thomas Rainey, 61, of Quarry Road in Knockloughrim, Co Londonderry, had pleaded guilty to the murder of his wife, Katrina Rainey, 53, in October 2021.

Mr Justice O’Hara, who delivered the sentence at Belfast Crown Court on Wednesday, said “given the horror of what he did to his wife it is the least he deserves”.

The incident occurred at the family home, when Mrs Rainey was leaving for work and Rainey opened her car door, covered her with petrol and then set her on fire.

A mother of six, Mrs Rainey was still alive and being attended to by her children who were covering her with wet towels when emergency services arrived.

Mrs Rainey was able to relay details of the attack to emergency services, some of which was captured on police bodycam, before she was taken to the Royal Victoria Hospital where she later died.

She told police that she had been to see a solicitor and she believed the attack was her husband’s retaliation to the pending divorce.

Mrs Rainey also told police that she was unable to get out of the car due to her seatbelt being fastened so she kept “hitting the horn and screaming”.

As a result of the brutal attack 90% of Mrs Rainey’s body was covered with burns.

This murder was not remotely akin to one where there was a quarrel or loss of temper

In court on Wednesday, Thomas Rainey sat in the dock awaiting sentence wearing a red jumper and striped shirt. He did not react when the sentence was handed down.

A mental health assessment after his arrest found Rainey was suffering from a depressive disorder of moderate severity, but the court stated this was not so severe as to prevent him from exercising self-control or understanding his actions.

The court heard the couple’s six-year-old daughter had died in an accident on their farm a number of years ago, which Rainey felt some level of personal responsibility for.

The defence put forward that Rainey had no previous history of domestic abuse, but Mr Justice O’Hara stated during sentencing “the murder of a wife who is seeking a divorce is in itself a definitive act of domestic violence”.

Other mitigating factors presented included Rainey’s remorse for his actions and the impact it had on his family.

However, Mr Justice O’Hara also stated that Mrs Rainey was in a “particularly vulnerable” position inside the car where she had “no realistic hope of escape” when she was attacked and the fact that Rainey had put petrol in a bucket and had a lighter on hand indicated premeditation.

They are still trying to come to terms with losing their loved one in such horrific circumstances

He added: “In my judgment the normal starting point cannot possibly apply in this case, despite the submissions on behalf of the defendant.

“This murder was not remotely akin to one where there was a quarrel or loss of temper.

“To spell it out, the defendant planned this murder to the extent that he put petrol in the bucket, he had the bucket to hand as his wife went to drive off to work and he threw the petrol over her.

“He also had a lighter to hand which he used to start the fire in the confined space of the car which she was strapped into.”

The court had further been asked to take Rainey’s guilty plea into account, which Mr Justice O’Hara conceded had saved the victims family the pain of a trial, but added that Rainey would not be given maximum credit for this.

“The defendant denied his guilt at the scene, even when his dying wife was telling their daughter Rachel what he had done,” he said.

“He also denied it to the police, suggesting instead in some oblique way that the fire might somehow be Mrs Rainey’s own fault for keeping petrol in the car.”

In a victim impact statement, Mrs Rainey’s mother said “my life has been taken too”, adding that she worries about the long-term impact on her grandchildren who witnessed their mother covered in flames.

Speaking outside Belfast Crown Court, PSNI Detective Inspector Hazel Miller said Katrina Rainey died a “horrific death”.

“Mrs Rainey was in the car, with her seatbelt on, about to leave for work that morning. Thomas Rainey opened the passenger door, he threw flammable liquid over his wife and set her alight,” she said.

“On arrival at the scene, officers, along with other emergency services, found Katrina outside the burned vehicle, having sustained severe and extensive burns to her body.

“She was taken to hospital but, sadly, later died from her injuries.”

Ms Miller said Mrs Rainey was a “caring and loving mother”, adding that her children and wider family circle have experienced “unimaginable grief and anguish”.

“They are still trying to come to terms with losing their loved one in such horrific circumstances,” she said.

“Today, thanks to our dedicated investigation team and working in partnership with our colleagues in the Public Prosecution Service, the defendant has been held accountable for his actions, actions that were deliberate and shocking and which have left a family shattered.

“While today’s sentencing signifies the end of the judicial process, I know that Katrina’s family will be walking away with the heaviest of hearts. My thoughts remain firmly with them.”

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