Man says fire that killed his wife was desperate attempt at communication

Stonebridge fire victim Denise Michelle Keane-Barnett-Simmons. Picture: Met Police

Stonebridge fire victim Denise Michelle Keane-Barnett-Simmons. Picture: Met Police - Credit: Archant

A jealous husband accused of murdering his estranged wife by setting her on fire said he secretly installed a spy camera in a bid to “salvage” their marriage.

Denise Michelle Keane-Barnett-Simmons, 36, was found fatally injured in the bedroom of her home in Alric Avenue, at 2.15am on April 16.

She suffered horrific burns and died in hospital.

Damien Simmons, 45, allegedly poured petrol over her and set her alight.

Shortly before, Simmons had allegedly posted a naked picture of his wife on Instagram.

When his phone was examined, police also found images from a camera in a lightbulb set up in the victim’s bedroom, the court has heard.

Giving evidence at the Old Bailey on Friday (August 20), Simmons admitted he had been a “controlling” and “jealous” husband who had harassed his wife after their relationship went “downhill”.

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Judy Khan QC, defending, said: “Why had you obtained the light camera?”

Simmons said: “To see who she was talking to, you know? So that I could try to salvage my marriage because I knew a lot of people are talking to her.”

Asked why he did not just talk to her directly, he replied: “I tried but every time she was always busy.”

The court heard that Simmons had also set up a voice recorder to catch conversations between Denise and her friend.

The Trinidadian former oil industry worker described to jurors how he met Denise through Facebook after his first wife died from sepsis in 2014.

Denise visited him in Trinidad for the first time in February 2018, for the carnival.

After they married in 2019, he sold his car, land and sheep for around £10,000 so that he could join her in London.

At first, the relationship was good “to an extent”, although Simmons said there were “one or two arguments”.

The defendant admitted being jealous of his spouse’s “gyrating” and “lewd dancing” at parties.

Ms Khan asked: “You expected Denise to change when she married you?”

Simmons said: “Yes I accept that – not having people winding on her, not going to all the parties, being more home as a family and doing things as a family.”

By January last year, the relationship was going “downhill” with arguments, he said.

Simmons, who did gardening and painting jobs for cash, said he was “controlling” over money and his wife’s freedom to speak to men and go out.

He began drinking and was “distraught things were going wrong with my marriage”, he said.

Simmons left the family home and he went to stay with his grandmother, whom he referred to as “mummy”.

On February 13 last year, police were called to the victim’s home over a complaint of harassment.

Ms Khan said: “Do you accept you were harassing Denise at this time?”

Simmons replied: “Yes I was. Basically just asking her to try and work things out, to meet her and talk.”

On his mood at the time, he said: “I was distraught, completely distraught I had lost my wife. I had lost my family.”

Simmons went on to admit making “inappropriate” posts about his wife on a Facebook group for local Trinidadians, and taking her gold chain, saying it was to get her to talk to him.

He also admitted making a series of internet searches, including CPS guidance on defences in law for murder and “best way to use a knife and kill someone”, but said he had no intention of doing that.

On the night of April 15 last year, Simmons said he was resolved to “set myself on fire because I just wanted to die” and wanted his wife to witness it.

After being shown CCTV footage of himself on the bus, he told jurors: “I was emotionally distraught, crying and battling with myself.”

Simmons said he did not recall sending an Instagram screenshot of his wife naked in the bath but said it would have been to “humiliate and hurt her”.

Asked about a voice message he sent on WhatsApp saying he hoped she would “suffer and die”, the defendant said he did not mean for his estranged wife to die that night.

The court heard Simmons was in the victim’s garden while police officers visited Denise until 1.34am.

Half an hour later, he broke into the property armed with a petrol can and went upstairs.

Describing what happened next, he said: “I think I remember Denise coming out of the master bedroom.

“She came and shouted at me ‘what are you doing here’ and I said ‘I’m going to kill myself’.

“I took the petrol to pour it, with the lighter in my left hand. As I was about to pour the petrol she grabbed it or hit it out of my hands.”

He said he reached down, lit the lighter and there was a “big wall of flames”.

Simmons told jurors he did not know that his wife had been set on fire.

Meanwhile, he screamed and walked around before he found himself lying outside on the ground, jurors heard.

Simmons has admitted manslaughter and disclosing private and sexual photographs with intent to cause distress.

He denies murder, arson with intent to endanger life and voyeurism.

Additional reporting by PA.