Langley Mill fire deaths: Father and sons jailed for life

image copyrightDerbyshire Police
image captionPeter Eyre (middle) and sons Simon (left) and Anthony (right) were jailed for life at Nottingham Crown Court

A man and his two sons have been jailed for life for murdering a baby and two teenagers in a flat fire in Derbyshire.

Six-month-old Ruby-Grace Gaunt, her mother Amy Smith and her friend Edward Green, both 17, died in the blaze in North Street, Langley Mill, in June.

Peter Eyre, 44, and sons Simon, 24, and Anthony, 22, all of Sandiacre, will spend at least 32, 26 and 23 years respectively in prison.

They started the fire as an act of revenge, Nottingham Crown Court heard.

image captionThe blaze was captured by a neighbour from a bedroom window

The trio were found guilty of three counts of murder after a month-long trial.

Judge Mrs Justice Sue Carr QC told the men she was sure the intention was to kill.

She said the fire must have been "truly terrifying" for the young people as they tried to escape.

"I am not sure on the evidence that you knew at the time that a baby was present in the flat," said the judge.

"There was, however, undoubtedly real mental and physical suffering in the awful minutes before these young people and a baby died."

She said Peter Eyre used his sons to satisfy his "desire for vengeance and a sense of self-importance".

"You have repeatedly lied and tried to bully your way out of your criminal responsibility...going so far as to seek to lay all the blame on your sons and your sons alone," Judge Carr told Peter Eyre.

During the case, the court was told the "catalyst" for the attack was a dispute over a stolen moped, which had been allegedly taken by another of Peter Eyre's sons.

image captionAmy Smith and her baby Ruby-Grace Gaunt died on the landing, while Edward Green was found near the front door

The moped belonged to Miss Smith's boyfriend, Shaun Gaunt, 18, who escaped from the fire alongside a friend with the help of neighbours.

The prosecution said following a confrontation with Mr Gaunt and his friends, Peter, Simon and Anthony Eyre drove to Langley Mill, and while Peter waited in his black Skoda, his sons poured petrol outside the front door of the block of flats where Mr Gaunt lived.

The door was the only means of entry and exit, the court heard.

Ruby-Grace was found in her dead mother's arms on a landing, while Mr Green was found dead near the front door.

The court was told firefighters did not initially see Mr Green lying at the foot of the stairs as the smoke was so thick.

media captionRuby-Grace's grandmother, Carleen Gaunt, cannot believe the cruelty of the men responsible for the fire

During his evidence, Peter Eyre denied being part of any plan to kill anyone or start a fire.

Shaun Smith, representing Peter Eyre, described the blaze as a "foolish revenge attack gone terribly wrong".

Peter Joyce, defending Simon Eyre, asked the judge to take into account Peter Eyre's "powerful influence" over his sons.

Mrs Justice Carr told Anthony Eyre - who admitted manslaughter before the trial - he had "at least in part" chose to tell the truth as to his criminal involvement.

image captionRelatives said Shaun Gaunt (right) will "never forget" his girlfriend Amy Smith (left) and daughter Ruby-Grace Gaunt (middle)

'Cannot underestimate devastation'

Dona Parry-Jones, senior crown prosecutor at CPS East Midlands, said the "mindless attack" had taken the lives of three people who had done nothing to the defendants.

"The Eyres set out to target Mr Gaunt, but it was Amy, Ruby-Grace and Edward who died instead," she said.

"This was a tragic, needless waste of three young lives. We cannot underestimate the devastation this has left on the families and friends of the three victims. "

Relatives paid tribute to Ruby-Grace, Miss Smith and Mr Green following the sentencing hearing.

Carleen Gaunt - Ruby-Grace's grandmother - said the baby was due to have surgery as she had a hole in her heart.

"[Ruby] was so lovely - I loved her to bits," she said. "Shaun is never going to forget Amy and Ruby or his friend Ed."

Mrs Gaunt added her disbelief that Peter, Simon and Anthony Eyre could be "so cruel" to target a flat with "only one way in and one way out".

media captionAmy Smith's mother, Melanie Hawkins, said no verdict or sentence will "make what happened that morning any easier for us to live with"

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