Page last updated at 12:56 GMT, Tuesday, 5 January 2010

Teenager sentenced for murder of Jessica McCagh

Stewart Blackburn and Jessica McCagh
Stewart Blackburn killed Jessica McCagh at their flat in April

A teenager who killed his girlfriend by dousing her in petrol and setting her alight has been sentenced to at least 21 years behind bars.

Stewart Blackburn, 18, was convicted in December after a 10-day trial.

His girlfriend Jessica McCagh, 17, died on 25 April after the attack at the Arbroath flat they shared.

Judge Lord Bracadale, who imposed a life sentence with a minimum term of 21 years, said Jessica had suffered a "terrible death" at Blackburn's hands.

He told the High Court in Edinburgh the evidence had shown there were three stages to the murder.

"First, you threw petrol over her. Then you set fire to her," he said.

"Once she was alight you did something of quite extraordinary cruelty: you held the door of the bedroom shut to prevent her escape.

"Jessica McCagh was your girlfriend, aged 17 years, and she died a terrible death at your hands."

Murder scene
Blackburn returned to the burning flat to save his dogs

The court heard Blackburn had earlier threatened to burn Jessica's parents' house using petrol, and that he had convictions for assault and a history of violence as a child.

He also admitted to a social worker preparing a background report he had thrown a petrol bomb at a house when he was just 13 years old after falling out with the occupant, Lord Bracadale said.

The judge added that Blackburn's "level of wickedness" deserved a long punishment.

Blackburn, who denied murder, was convicted by a unanimous verdict after a trial at the High Court in Livingston.

The teenager claimed the fire started from burning embers dropping from a cannabis cigarette.

But expert witnesses told the court that was very unlikely and produced evidence to indicate the petrol must have been lit by a naked flame.

The attack left Jessica, a former pupil at Arbroath High School, with burns on up to 85% of her body. She died later the same day at Dundee's Ninewells Hospital.

At the trial, prosecutor Frank Mulholland QC described Blackburn's crime as a "barbaric and evil act against a defenceless young woman".

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