Stonebridge woman was "spied upon" before death in arson attack

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 man accused of murdering his estranged wife in an arson attack in Stonebridge allegedly spied on her by hiding a camera in a lightbulb in her bedroom, a court has heard.

Damien Simmons, 45, of no fixed address, is accused of pouring petrol on Denise Keane-Simmons, 36, and setting her on fire in her bedroom in her home in Alric Avenue at 2.15am on April 16, 2020.

Denise was taken to hospital with serious injuries and pronounced dead at 6.07am.

The Old Bailey heard on Friday (August 13) that Simmons posted an intimate picture of the teaching assistant on social media, just hours before she died.

Simmons said he did not intend to harm Denise but claimed that she died accidentally when he was trying to kill himself in front of her.

The defendant has admitted her manslaughter but denies murder and arson with intent to endanger life.

He has also denied voyeurism but pleaded guilty to disclosing private and sexual photographs with intent to cause distress.

Prosecutor Bill Emlyn Jones QC told the court that the estranged couple met in Trinidad, where they married in February 2019, and Simmons then relocated to the UK to move in with his wife and her mother.

But their relationship became strained because the defendant wanted Denise to change her behaviour and stop seeing her friends, according to a family friend living there at the time.

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Debbie Debreo, another friend of Denise's, said she witnessed Simmons being “aggressive” and “intimidating” to his wife in January 2020, physically dragging her and grabbing her by the wrists.

The court heard Denise changed the locks to her home following the incident, in which the police were called and officers escorted Simmons away from the property, although no formal complaint was made.

Later that night Ms Debreo noticed that the lighting in Denise's bedroom was darker than usual, and looking closer discovered a camera in the lightbulb and removed it.

Prosecutors claim Simmons was using the camera to spy on Denise, after police found two photographs taken with the device when his phone was examined in April following the blaze.

An email exchange was found on Simmon’s phone where he had reviewed the camera on Amazon, writing: “Faulty, works okay, runs out of charge quickly.”

Simmons has admitted that he bought the camera but denied he was using it to spy on Denise, instead insisting he bought it for the Trinidad and Tobago UK Association.

On the night of the fire, the jury heard that Simmons posted an intimate image of Denise on Instagram, along with her maiden name, job and the school where she worked.

Mr Jones said that Simmons, who does not dispute that he posted the image on social media, also emailed his estranged wife telling her he had put pictures of her on the website Porn Hub.

In a statement to officers after calling the police, Denise said: “I feel anxious about leaving my house as his behaviour is so unpredictable and just want to live my life without that worry of Damien.”

On the same night, Mr Jones said CCTV from a petrol station showed Simmons filling a cannister with five-and-a-half litres of petrol, while separate footage later showed him lingering outside his wife’s house while the police were in attendance.

Prosecutors allege that after officers had left the property, Simmons poured petrol through the letterbox of the front door and smashed a window to break into the house, with CCTV showing a fire igniting some 30 seconds later.

The flames then “quickly engulfed the house” and Simmons managed to escape out of a window, as did a family friend who also lived in the house with the help of a neighbour and the fire service.

Simmons suffered burns in the blaze and was taken to hospital where he was later arrested.

Denise was found on her bedroom floor and had suffered extensive burns, as well as smoke inhalation.

Jurors heard that “the nature and the pattern” of the burns to her body had been analysed by a consultant plastic surgeon experienced in the treatment of burn injuries.

“It is his view that Denise’s injuries suggest that petrol had been poured over her head and upper body and then set on fire,” Mr Jones told the court.

“Although she was found lying down, the pattern of injuries indicates that she had been in an upright position when first exposed to the flames.”

The trial continues.