By Paul Thornton
A CRUEL teenager who soaked his girlfriend in petrol before setting her on fire after she threatened to dump him will spend a minimum of 21 years behind bars.
Jealous Stewart Blackburn, 18, doused Jessica McCagh, 17, and set her ablaze to die in agony after she told friends she was going to leave him.
Even as Jessica burned to death in Blackburn’s small Arbroath bedroom, the sick killer – who later said he did it because he was “in a huff” – held the door closed to stop her escaping or getting help.
Pretty Jessica suffered 85 per cent fourth-degree burns and, despite desperate efforts to save her passed away in Dundee’s Ninewells Hospital later the same day.
A jury found twisted Blackburn guilty of murder by a unanimous verdict following an heart rending eight day trial at the High Court in Livingston in December.
He was admonished on two further charges of assaulting Jessica in the hours before her death and breaching the peace by discharging an unloaded air rifle at two men in the lead-up to the savage killing in the early hours of April 25 last year.
Yesterday (Tuesday) Blackburn was jailed for life for what Lord Bracadale described as “something of quite extraordinary cruelty”.
Lord Bracadale said: “The evidence disclosed that there were three stages in the murder of Jessica McCagh
“First you threw petrol over her, then you set fire to her
“Once she was alight you did something of quite extraordinary cruelty in holding the door shut.
“Jessica McCagh was your girlfriend aged 17 years old and she died a horrible death at your hands.
“You had threatened to burn down the house of her parents where she was then living.
“You have admitted to the social worker who prepared you background report that when you were 13 years old you threw a petrol bomb at a house because of a fall out with the occupant.
“I order that you serve a punishment part of 21 years.”
“I don’t want to die”
During the trial neighbour Ricci Foreman – who heard her desperate screams – described how he arrived in time to see Blackburn fleeing the scene and witness Jessica’s brave bid to get out of the Bloomfield Road flat.
Ricci, 19, frantically emptied a fish tank of water over Jessica several times in a bid to put her out before she was dragged to a grassy patch in front of the building.
And her father Garry – who had been woken by Blackburn – arrived 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 – and over the course of three police interviews 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 “bombers” from a cannabis joint for starting the inferno. He went on to offer prosecutors a guilty plea of culpable homicide, but denying murder.
This was turned down and following a 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.
During the trial Solicitor General Frank Mulholland QC led 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 lingered in their ambulance for over 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 after pathologists studied her body 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.
Marion, 47, and Garry 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 daughter’s 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.
Last night her family said her killer should never get out.
Her dad Garry McCagh said: “She was a lovely wee lassie. We are going to miss her very, very much.
“I would have been happier if it was longer (Blackburn’s sentence), life should be life.
“He should never get out.”
Asked what his feelings to the killer were now, Garry replied: “Anger, hatred. He took something precious away from me, my wee lassie.
“It has been a nightmare, I will never forget her, she will always be with me.”
Fighting tears, Garry said that his family would look to move on following the sentence.
He said: “It will be hard, we just have to push ourselves, it is over now.
“I hope he doesn’t get released, I hope they keep him in.”
Garry had words of thanks for family, friends, prosecutors and members of the Arbroath community who have helped his family through their ordeal.
But he saved special mention for Ricci Foreman, the neighbour to fought to rescue Jessica, even as she burned to death before him.
Garry said: “I would also like to thank Ricci Foreman for his bravery. I think that man should honoured, get some recognition.”