by Paul Thornton
A TEENAGER who soaked his girlfriend in petrol and then set her on fire after she threatened to dump him has been found guilty of murder.
As helpless Jessica burned to death in his bedroom, sick Blackburn even held the door closed to stop her from escaping despite her screams.
He later claimed he had been in a “huff”.
Blackburn was found guilty on all counts at the High Court in Livingston today.
Judge Lord Bracadale said: “The jury has found you guilty of the murder of Jessica McCagh by throwing petrol over her and setting her alight.
“She was your girlfriend, aged 17 years, and she died a terrible death at your hands.
“Her family are left bereft.
“These acts demonstrate a degree of wickedness on your part which will leave all right thinking people disturbed.”
Sentence was deferred for background reports until January 5 at the High Court in Edinburgh.
Mum Marion, 47, and dad Garry, 50, attended the High Court in Livingston to hear the verdict read out having had to give evidence against him.
Detective Sergeant Brian Smith from Tayside Police issued a statement on behalf of the family afterwards.
It said: “Blackburn had been found guilty of murdering our beautiful daughter in the most terrible and terrifying way.
“No parent should ever have to bury their child and we hope no parent will ever have endure the anguish we have suffered since Jessica was taken from us.
“We want to thanks the police and the prosecution for bringing Blackburn to justice today for his wicked actions.
“We also want to thank Ricci Foreman for trying to save Jessica.”
“We will always be grateful to him for his bravery.
“Jessica was the baby of the family and we miss everything about her and always will.”
Jessica died in Dundee’s Ninewells Hospital from fourth degree burns inflicted by the horror incident which affected more than 85 per cent of her body.
Before she passed away, tragic Jessica told her parents: “I don’t want to die – I love you.”
The jury in the murder trial was forced to endure evidence so gruesome some images were held back from them.
But it was enough to convince them of Blackburn’s guilt.
Neighbour Ricci Foreman – who heard her desperate screams – earlier told how he had arrived just in time to see Blackburn fleeing the scene and witness Jessica’s brave bid to get out of the Arbroath flat while being eaten alive by flames.
Ricci, 19, had repeatedly tipped a fish tank full of water over Jessica in a frantic bid to douse the fire which engulfed her slight frame before she was finally dragged from the inferno onto a grassy patch in front of the building.
Her father Garry – who had been woken by Blackburn – made it to the scene with his wife in time to hear his daughter beg: “I don’t want to die dad, I love you.”
Blackburn was arrested on April 25 – the day of the blaze and of Jessica’s death.
Over the course of three police interviews, Blackburn admitted throwing petrol on her from a five litre jerry can following an argument.
But he claimed he had not meant to set her on fire and blamed embers – “bombers” from a joint of cannabis for starting the inferno.
He went on to offer prosecutors a guilty plea of culpable homicide, but denied murder.
His plea was turned down by Prosecutors and following an emotion packed two week trial at the High Court in Livingston Blackburn was found guilty of all charges by a unanimous jury of 10 men and five women.
The court had heard eight days of at times heart wrenching evidence from Jessica’s family and friends, Blackburn’s neighbours, police officers, medical staff and forensic fire experts.
Forensic experts said that over a litre of petrol had been used to set the blaze and added that a naked flame had to be used to set Jessica alight.
Paramedics said the stench of petrol coming from Jessica’s charred body had lingered in their ambulance for more than a day.
A plastic surgeon described how Jessica suffered massive burns and had no chance of surviving her injury.
Dr Annis Nasan said surgeons desperately slashed through Jessica’s skin to prevent her burns tightening and cutting off her blood supply.
But she lost her fight for life in an intensive care unit just hours after the blaze with her family around her.
More than 400 people attended her funeral in Arbroath on May 14 – her body only being released after pathologists had studied her for clues.
Dr David Sadler – who performed the post mortem on Jessica – said her death had been caused by the fire and her injuries had been “unsurvivable”.
Blackburn was held in custody following court appearances just days after the blaze and required regular breaks in evidence as Jessica’s family sat through evidence as first taking the witness stand.
Parents Marion, 47, and Garry, 50, described Blackburn turning up at their home in just his boxer shorts and a t-shirt at 4am shouting “Jessica, Jessica’s dead”.
During the trial they learned that Blackburn had been given 150 hours of community service at Arbroath Sheriff Court in January after admitting a catalogue of crimes including theft by house breaking and assaulting Garry.
Jessica’s mother, Marion, left the court in tears several times as graphic details of her daughters death were recalled and experiments showing burning mannequins were played to the jury.
Blackburn variously wept, giggled and fidgeted and several times torn pieces of paper cups could be seen littering the dock.
It was revealed during one of three police interviews which were played to jurors that Blackburn had tried to take his own life while in custody.
Blackburn will now be sentenced in the New Year.