Samantha Eastwood: Midwife murderer jailed for 17 years

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Media captionMichael Stirling’s custody interview with Staffordshire Police

The “callous” killer who murdered midwife Samantha Eastwood comforted her sister just hours after burying her body in a shallow grave.

Michael Stirling, 32, admitted killing Ms Eastwood, from Stoke-on-Trent, with whom he had been having a three-year-long affair.

He buried the 28-year-old with tape around her eyes and head at Caverswall, Staffordshire, in August.

Stirling was sentenced to serve almost 17 years in jail for her murder.

Ms Eastwood was smothered and strangled at her home hours after finishing a nightshift at Royal Stoke University Hospital on 27 July.

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Media captionSamantha Eastwood skydive before her murder

Her body was discovered beside a country lane eight days later, wrapped in a duvet with tape covering her eyes and mouth.

Married Stirling, who is the brother-in-law of Ms Eastwood’s ex-fiancĂ© John Peake, joined in the search to find his victim.

The landscape gardener comforted her family and sent messages from her phone so people would think she was still alive.

Police compared him to murderer Ian Huntley – who was convicted of the 2002 murders of two 10-year-old girls in Soham, Cambridgeshire – who took part in several public appeals for information after the killings.

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Samantha Eastwood

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Samantha Eastwood was missing for more than a week before her body was found in a shallow grave

Stirling’s lawyer, Charles Miskin QC, said on the day of Ms Eastwood’s death she had been in the bedroom with her killer.

According to the police, the lovers would meet regularly after she finished her nightshifts at the hospital.

There was an argument between the pair about the future of their relationship “he then lost all his self-control,” Mr Miskin added.

Judge Mrs Justice Sue Carr said after Stirling had strangled her, he “picked her up but she was dead”.

She continued: “You did not want to leave her with her eyes and mouth open and wanted her face to be protected from the consequences of burial so you covered her face, eyes and mouth with tape.

“You put her body into the back of your van and drove off.

“With chilling sang-froid, you texted your wife an affectionate message saying that you would meet her at your parents’ house, as you duly did, enjoying a family meal. Your wife describes you as fine and cheerful. Samantha’s body lay all the while in your van parked opposite.”

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Staffordshire Police

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Stirling went to his parents’ house for dinner with Ms Eastwood’s body in his van

In sentencing, the judge said Stirling had “lied over and over again”.

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In a victim impact statement read to the court, Ms Eastwood’s sister, Gemma, said Stirling gave her a hug the day after her sibling went missing.

He had gone to Ms Eastwood’s home on the pretence of helping the family – in fact, he had buried her just hours earlier.

Gemma Eastwood said that moment would “forever haunt her”.

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Det Insp Dan Ison, who led the murder investigation, said that just hours after burying Miss Eastwood, Stirling went back to her home

Police described Stirling as “cold”, “callous” and “remorseless” in murdering the woman he had conducted a “full-on and intimate” affair with.

Telephone records showed that during July, Stirling had bombarded Ms Eastwood with 128 phone calls. She had called him 25 times.

Det Insp Dan Ison, who led the investigation, said the day after the killing, the murderer used Ms Eastwood’s phone to message family members, giving them false hope she was still alive.

In the exchange of text messages that morning, Gemma Eastwood texted to her sister asking her to get in touch.

Stirling replied, posing as her sister, asking to be “left alone”.

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Media captionDet Insp Dan Ison compares Stirling to Soham murderer Ian Huntley

He continued to exchange messages with Gemma, claiming her sister was having “a massive breakdown about stuff” and resisting her increasingly desperate appeals for her to talk with her.

The judge described the texting as an act of “breath-taking cruelty”.

Stirling was arrested and released by police before Ms Eastwood remains were found.

Officers discovered his phone and his van had been in the same area twice late at night on the day of her disappearance.

He was undone six days later when he returned to the burial site by bicycle while he was under surveillance.

Speaking outside court, Gemma Eastwood said: “No matter the outcome, nothing could bring my sister back.

“I have lost my best friend and sister, my mum has lost a kind, caring and loving daughter, our lives will never be the same.”

Samantha Eastwood: Timeline of disappearance

27 July – 07:45 – Samantha Eastwood last seen alive, leaving the Royal Stoke University Hospital

27 July – about 19:20 – Colleagues become concerned when she doesn’t turn up for work

30 July – Police launch appeal for information after her disappearance

1 August – Police release CCTV of Ms Eastwood leaving work with a female colleague, before driving off alone

3 August – Her sister, Gemma Eastwood, makes a tearful appeal, saying her family needs her home “where she belongs”

4 August – Search by police sees officers combing rural areas of Staffordshire and cordoning off parts of Caverswall village

4 August – Later the same day, detectives reveal they have found a body and arrested a 32-year-old man on suspicion of murder

8 August – Michael Stirling, 32, of Gratton Road, Stoke-on-Trent, appears at Stafford Crown Court where it’s revealed Ms Eastwood was found in a shallow grave

22 October – Stirling pleads guilty to murdering the midwife after a “longstanding” affair

3 December – Stirling jailed for life at Stafford Crown Court

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