Surveillance operation spotted killer of midwife acting suspiciously near shallow grave
The body of a midwife was found buried in a roadside shallow grave after her killer was spotted by a surveillance team acting suspiciously around 800 metres away, an inquest has heard.
The senior North Staffordshire Coroner, Andrew Barkley, recorded a finding of unlawful killing on Samantha Eastwood (pictured) following an inquest which heard that her killer, Michael Stirling, used tape to bind her body.
Stirling, 33, of Gratton Road, Stoke-on-Trent, was jailed for life last December at Northampton Crown Court after admitting murder.
An inquest at Stafford Combined Court Centre was told Stirling came under suspicion after 28-year-old Miss Eastwood, of Baddeley Green, failed to appear for a night shift at the Royal Stoke University Hospital on July 27 last year.
Chief Inspector Dan Ison, of Staffordshire Police, told the hearing Stirling was arrested on suspicion of kidnap after “out of character” messages were sent from Miss Eastwood’s phone, but was then bailed due to insufficient evidence.
Stirling was spotted by police officers near Tickhill Lane in Caverswall on August 2, 2018 “disappearing down a footpath” at the remote location, the inquest heard.
Outlining how mobile phone evidence linked Stirling to the area on the day of Miss Eastwood’s disappearance, Mr Ison said of the killer’s return to the scene six days later: “He went to within 800 metres of the deposition site.
“That caused me to set up a search strategy and the use of technology to identify locations within a 1,000-metre radius of where it was best to search. I think Samantha was found in the second priority area.”
The inquest was told Miss Eastwood’s body had been placed face-down in the makeshift grave, which would have taken around four hours to dig.
Offering his condolences to members of the victim’s family, including her sister Gemma and mother Carole, Mr Barkley said he accepted evidence that Miss Eastwood was killed at her home address and that the cause of her death was “more likely than not” to have been pressure on the neck and occlusion of her airway.
When Stirling was sentenced last year to serve a minimum of 16 years in prison, Mrs Justice Carr told him: “Samantha was alone in her home where she should have been safe and sound, and trusted you in her house.
“On any view, she suffered what must have been a terrifying assault resulting in a killing that was not immediate.”
The judge added that Stirling had then “weaved an extraordinary web of deception”, causing immense distress to the family, including sending fake texts pretending to be from Miss Eastwood, and even hugging the victim’s sister.
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