A retired engineer was today told he would die in jail for murdering his wife just days after he confessed to an affair and secret lovechild during their 53-year marriage.
Church-goer David Clarke, 80, battered unsuspecting wife Helen, 77, with a hammer then set her on fire days after telling her ‘in an act of spite’ how he had betrayed her with a woman she had regarded as a friend, a court heard today.
Mrs Clarke, described as a ‘doting granny’, was ‘completely devastated’ by the bombshell news, which came after the couple had travelled to Australia to meet his former lover and her family.
When they returned from the trip to their beauty spot cottage on the Gower Peninsula, less than a mile from where Catherine Zeta Jones and Michael Douglas live when they are in Wales. the pair argued and Mrs Clarke struck her husband with a picture frame and cup of tea, Swansea Crown Court was told.
Four days later the father-of-four – a former international pistol-shooting champion – texted family members telling them: ‘I love you.’
He then set off with his wife for an early morning drive, saying they were going ‘to the beach’.
Church-goer David Clarke (left), 80, battered unsuspecting wife Helen (right), 77, with a hammer then set her on fire days after
David Clarke, 80 who killed his wife Helen, has been sentenced to life imprisonment
But during the journey Clarke stopped the car and struck his wife – who used a wheelchair – several times in the head with a lump hammer, prosecutor Michael Jones KC told today’s hearing.
The retired businessman then threw paraffin on her body and set her on fire inside the couple’s Honda Civic.
A brave passer-by tried to intervene but Clarke drove off down the road before crashing into a hedge as flames burst out from the car.
Mrs Clarke was able to tell firefighters her husband was to blame for the attack, on September 22 last year.
‘He hit me twice with a sledgehammer, covered me in paraffin and set me on fire,’ she said.
She was taken to hospital where she tragically died from her injuries two days later.
Questioned in hospital about a bruise on his head, the court heard Clarke told a paramedic: ‘My wife is not the forgiving kind.
‘We have been married 53 years, I had an affair 50 years ago she only found out a few days ago.’
Mrs Clarke (pictured), described as a ‘doting granny’, was ‘completely devastated’ by the bombshell news that her husband had cheated on her, which came after the couple had travelled to Australia to meet his former lover and her family
Speaking later of the attack on phone from prison, Clarke told his son he ‘hit her with the hammer to make her go unconscious but she just wouldn’t go out.’
Mrs Clarke had extensive burns across her body and nine head wounds from the hammer blows with medics telling her family her injuries were ‘unsurvivable’.
Clarke had an affair with a friend of Mrs Clarke – a woman named only as ‘L’ – when the couple lived in Zambia, today’s hearing was told.
He later confided about the affair and his secret daughter to his son, David Clarke Junior, while living in Zimbabwe in 2003, but told him not to tell his mother.
Mr Jones said: ‘He asked David Clarke Jnr to go for a drive with him, and during the drive the defendant started to cry and informed his son he had an affair with a woman in Zambia – a family friend referred to as ‘L’ – and he believed he had a daughter as a result of that affair.’
The son ‘believed there was no good that could come from his mother knowing’, Mr Jones said, although he did tell his own wife.
During 2023, Clarke would message ‘L’ – who by then had emigrated to Australia – despite her telling him to stop, the court heard.
He also texted pictures of ‘L’ to family members, describing her as his ‘soulmate’ – and booked flights for him and his wife to travel Down Under
Clarke (pictured) had an affair with a friend of Mrs Clarke – a woman named only as ‘L’ – when the couple lived in Zambia, today’s hearing was told
One of their stops during the trip was ‘planned’ by Clarke as he knew ‘L’ and her daughter lived in the area after becoming ‘fixated in his belief that he now had other grandchildren,’ Mr Jones said.
‘It appears they did meet up with ‘L’ and her husband with Helen Clarke completely oblivious to the defendant’s real reason of meeting up.’
Mr Jones said the couple were due to fly home on September 18 last year and Mr Clarke unsuccessfully begged ‘L’ and her daughter to see them off at the airport.
That day messages exchanged on the Clarke family WhatsApp made it clear that he had told his wife about the historic affair, the prosecutor said.
She was ‘evidently and understandably devastated and angry’, he added.
‘She accused the defendant of engineering the trip to see ‘L’.’
The court heard that it was four days later that Clarke carried out the fatal attack on his wife.
In a witness statement, his son, David Junior, said his parents had always argued, with his father sometimes being violent and bullying towards his mother – but thought they had ‘mellowed with age’.
John Hipkin, KC, defending said Clarke had no previous convictions and may have been suffering from an ‘adjustment disorder’ at the time.
Judge Paul Thomas KC told Clarke, of Langland, Swansea: ‘You have been an aggressive, occasionally violent husband for many years under a veneer of apparent respectability both in Africa and over latterly in this area.
Police, firefighters and paramedics at the scene of the burning Honda Jazz in Swansea where the couple were pulled from the car
‘Despite your professed Christianity your behaviour in private has never matched your public image.
‘Your infidelity with a woman in Africa had been concealed for around half a century until in the last year you tried to rekindle an old relationship.
‘You went to the length of arranging a holiday to Australia with a hidden agenda of meeting up with a lady with whom you had been previously involved.
‘When she wanted nothing to do with you, in an act of spite you told your wife about the affair at the airport on the way home, leading of course to arguments between you thereafter.’
Clarke, who pleaded guilty to murder at a hearing in December last year, was jailed for life with a minimum of 21 years and eight months and told he would die in prison.
‘I cannot pass a sentence likely in due course you will be released,’ the judge said.
‘To use a phrase, I cannot here pass a sentence which allow for a significant light at the end of the tunnel.’
Afterwards Rebecca Carter of the CPS said: ‘Helen Clarke was murdered by her husband, of 53 years, in terrible circumstances.
‘This has been a tragic case. Our thoughts and sympathies go to Helen’s family at this difficult time.’
After the hearing the devastated family spoke of their ‘unimaginable pain’ since Mrs Clarke was ‘brutally taken from us’ in what they described as a ‘private tragedy’.
‘Our mother was a loving, kind and courageous woman who greatly cherished her family, her friends, and the world at large,’ they said.
‘She was strongly committed to her faith, had a laugh which would set a room alight, and a great appreciation for life and the beauty of the world.
‘Her passing in such a sudden and tragic manner has been devastating; and our grief is immeasurable.
‘The situation we find ourselves in highlights the complexity and fragility of the human mind.
‘We have endured unimaginable pain since she was brutally taken from us – and our children miss their Granny, who was extremely proud of them, so very much.
‘We continue to do our utmost to support and protect them as we navigate these very difficult circumstances.’
They expressed their thanks to members of the public and emergency services who tried to save her from the burning car.
Detective Chief Inspector Paul Raikes, of South Wales Police, said: ‘This has been a challenging investigation due to its nature and circumstances.
‘To this end, I would like to place on record our condolences to the family of Helen Clarke, and thank them for their cooperation and understanding during extremely difficult times for them.’Post published in: Featured