AN Essex banker doused his wife in white spirit and set her on fire “like a candle” following a row over his affair with his chiropractor.

Redundant futures broker Darren Byrne, 40, was found guilty of murder after he claimed to have returned home from a dog walk to find wife Maria dead at the family home.

He then claimed he tried to cover up her death in a panic by making it looking she had killed herself whilst making him a bacon sandwich.

But the prosecution told the court Maria, 35, with whom Byrne had two sons, was unconscious but still alive when he set light to her in the kitchen of their £450,000 semi-detached home in Theydon Bois.

She was said to have ignited “like a wick in a candle”.

Sickeningly, Byrne was heard to have called his mistress after killing Maria.

A jury of eight women and four men at Chelmsford Crown Court returned a 11-1 majority verdict to guilty to murder after nine hours’ deliberation.

It also unanimously convicted him of arson, being reckless as to whether life was endangered, relating to his neighbours.

They had earlier heard the prosecution’s claim that the row happened when Maria discovered a text he had sent to Deborah Houlihan – his married chiropractor with whom he had been having an affair.

Byrne alleged that his wife had started to get jealous – for no reason – in 2014 due to his long working hours.

He insisted her didn’t mind that she checked his mobile and emails.

During the hearing Byrne told the jury he had lashed out and his wife fell backwards on to the kitchen floor.

He said he thought she was faking a panic attack and hyperventilating.

Byrne said he sat her on a seat and took the dog out but when he returned she was dead on the floor.

He had described how he had set fire to her after first pouring white spirit on the floor to roll her in. He said he had also poured it on top of her and had watched in horror as the fire spread to her face and hair.

He told the jury: “Then the fire caught hold. I couldn’t believe the flames went into her hair, on to her face. I thought I was going to black out.”

The court was told that he turned on the gas to cause an explosion but when that failed he had tried to make what had happened look like a cooking accident.

In his 999 call Mr Byrne said: “My wife is dead she is dead. She’s burnt badly.

“The stove was on and the frying pan was on the other side of the room.

She’s not doing anything, she’s not moving.”

Byrne will be sentenced later this week and will receive a life sentence but the judge will have to determine when he will be eligible for parole.

The judge has already warned Byrne that he will be in prison for “an exceedingly long time.”

After the verdict Judge Charles Gratwicke told him: “You have been convicted of what can only be described as a wicked and heinous crime.

“I say nothing further at this stage except you can expect an exceedingly long sentence. Take him down.”

Maria‘s mother described how she is “overwhelmed with hatred and rage towards [Byrne]”.

Byrne, who was made redundant from City firm RJ O’Brien (UK) Ltd just a week before, pleaded not guilty to murder on 13 February 2016 and not guilty to arson.

Expert pathologists called by prosecution and defence disagreed as to whether Mrs Byrne was alive or dead when she was set on fire.

The court heard that her head injury would not have proved fatal.

Nor would she have died from her 40-45 per cent burns. Her cause of death was given as immolation by use of an accelerant.

Byrne grew up in Bexley, Kent, with his parents Sean and Gill and younger brother Paul.

In his 20 years as a broker he also worked for Goldman Sachs and MF Global, among other financial companies.

He and Maria, a securities support worker, married in 2008, 18 months after they met at work, and moved to the Epping area and had two sons.

Maria‘s mother Linda Biggs said what Byrne did to her daughter was “beyond any human comprehension”.

She said: “Eight years ago we entrusted Maria, the most precious thing we had, to Darren Byrne.

“We loved him and treated him like our own son.

“This person, instead of loving and protecting her, took her life in the most degrading way.”

Credits: The Sun UK


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