Page last updated at 19:28 GMT, Friday, 11 December 2009

Man jailed over wife fire murder

Christopher Birks
Christopher Birks previously admitted murdering his wife

A man who admitted murdering his wife before setting fire to their Stoke-on-Trent home to cover his tracks has been sentenced to at least 19 years in jail.

Christopher Birks, 31, previously admitted murdering 27-year-old Amanda in Norton Heights on 18 January.

He set fire to their home while their two-year-old daughter and eight-year-old son were sleeping in their beds.

Birks, who escaped the fire unharmed with his children, was sentenced at Stafford Crown Court.

Birks also endangered the lives of fire crews when he told them to go into the house to save his wife - even though he had already killed her, the court heard.

Toxicology tests showed Mrs Birks was not alive when the fire was started but detectives have not been able to establish how she died.

A statement from Mrs Birks' family described her murderer as an "evil, selfish man".

Aromatherapy candle

The Recorder of Stafford Judge Simon Tonking told Birks it was difficult to imagine how terrifying the fire must have been for the children.

Birks had been due to face a four-week trial at Stafford Crown Court last month but pleaded guilty on the first day.

The sentencing judge heard how Birks, who ran a satellite television installation business, had claimed his wife had accidentally started the fire at their Chillington Way home with an aromatherapy candle.

Amanda Birks
Amanda Birks was found dead in January

The judge told him: "Your subterfuge was intricate, devious and determined and much of it was very carefully executed."

Birks, who was thought to have killed his wife about 12 hours earlier, had placed her body on a bed after coming up with an "elaborate pretence" that she had been alive during the intervening period.

The court heard how Birks sent text messages from his wife's mobile phone to her mother and to himself to try to make out that she planned to light candles for an aromatherapy session.

Prosecutor Christopher Hotten QC told the court the murder took place after Mrs Birks told her husband she was leaving him and that she had feelings for a work colleague.

'Elaborate pretence'

He described how Birks had dialled 999 during the blaze and faked attempts to rescue his wife while shouting her name.

Mr Hotten said: "In fact this was all an elaborate pretence to conceal that his wife was in a bedroom and that she was dead.

Christopher Birks has left two children without a mummy
Amanda Birks' family statement

"He gave as convincing a performance as he could of being a desperate husband seeking to rescue his wife from a blazing building."

Forensic tests showed Mrs Birks had not been alive when the fire started, but they were unable to determine the cause of her death.

A statement released after the sentencing by Mrs Birks' family said Birks had "destroyed our family's lives, especially those of the children who have been left traumatised".

It said: "After years of violence and abuse, Christopher Birks killed our lovely daughter Amanda.

"He then showed how cruel and heartless he is by telling a continual stream of lies to everyone he spoke to, including his own children, her friends, the police and us."

It added: "Christopher Birks has left two children without a mummy.

"We will never get over what he did to Amanda. This evil, selfish man has shown absolutely no remorse, only pleading guilty at the last minute when he realised the evidence against him was so overwhelming."

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