A retired engineer was today told he would die in jail for murdering his wife just days after confessing to having an affair and fathering a secret child during their 53-year marriage.
Church-goer David Clarke, 80, hit his unsuspecting wife Helen, 77, with a hammer and then set her on fire days after telling her “in an act of spite” how he had betrayed her with a woman he she considered a friend, a court heard today.
Mrs Clarke, described as a “loving grandmother”, was left “completely devastated” by the explosive news, which came after the couple traveled to Australia to meet her ex-lover and his family.
When they returned from the trip to their beautiful cottage on the Gower Peninsula, the couple argued and Mrs Clarke hit her husband with a photo frame and a teacup, Swansea Crown Court was told.
Four days later, the father of four, a former international pistol shooting champion, sent a text message to his relatives telling them: “I love you.”
He then went out with his wife for an early morning drive, saying they were going “to the beach.”
Church-goer David Clarke (left), 80, hit his unsuspecting wife Helen (right), 77, with a hammer and then set her on fire days later.
David Clarke, 80, who killed his wife Helen, has been sentenced to life in prison
But during the journey, Clarke stopped the car and hit his wife, who used a wheelchair, several times in the head with a hammer, prosecutor Michael Jones KC told today’s hearing.
The retired businessman then poured paraffin on her body and set fire to it 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 shot out of the car.
Mrs Clarke was able to tell firefighters that 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 head bruise, the court heard Clarke tell a paramedic: “My wife is not the forgiving type.”
“We’ve been married 53 years, I had an affair 50 years ago and she found out just a few days ago.”
Mrs Clarke (pictured), described as a “loving granny”, was left “completely devastated” by the explosive news that her husband had cheated on her, which came after the couple traveled to Australia to meet her ex lover and his family.
Speaking later of the phone attack from prison, Clarke told her son that he “hit her with the hammer to knock her unconscious, but she just didn’t want to come out.”
Mrs Clarke had extensive burns all over her body and nine wounds to her head from the blows of the hammer and doctors told her family her injuries were “insurmountable”.
Clarke had an affair with a friend of Mrs Clarke, a woman called only ‘L’, when the couple lived in Zambia, today’s hearing was told.
She later confessed the affair and her secret daughter to her son, David Clarke Junior, while living in Zimbabwe in 2003, but told him not to tell her mother.
Jones said: “He asked David Clarke Jnr to go for a walk with him, and during the trip the accused began to cry and informed his son that he was having an affair with a woman in Zambia, a family friend known as ‘L’ – and believed he had a daughter as a result of that affair.
The son “believed there was nothing good that could come of his mother knowing,” Mr. Jones said, although he did tell his own wife.
During 2023, Clarke would send messages to ‘L’, who by then had emigrated to Australia, despite her telling him to stop, the court heard.
He also texted photographs of ‘L’ to members of his family, describing her as his ‘soulmate’, and booked flights for him and his wife to travel to Australia.
Clarke (pictured) had an affair with a friend of Mrs Clarke, a woman called only ‘L’, when the couple lived in Zambia, today’s hearing was told.
One of their stops during the trip was “planned” by Clarke, as she knew “L” and her daughter lived in the area after “becoming obsessed with the belief that she now had other grandchildren,” Jones said.
“It appears that they met with ‘L’ and her husband, with Helen Clarke completely oblivious to the defendant’s true reason for the meeting.”
Jones said the couple were due to fly home on September 18 last year and Clarke unsuccessfully pleaded with ‘L’ and her daughter to see them off at the airport.
That day, messages exchanged on WhatsApp from the Clarke family made it clear that he had told his wife about the historic affair, the prosecutor said.
She was “obviously and understandably devastated and angry,” he added.
“She accused the defendant of organizing the trip to see ‘L’.”
The court heard that four days later Clarke carried out the fatal attack on his wife.
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 and at times violent husband for many years under a veneer of apparent respectability both in Africa and latterly in this area.”
Police, firefighters and paramedics at the scene of the Honda Jazz fire in Swansea, where the couple was pulled from the car
‘Despite his professed Christianity, his private behavior has never matched his public image.
‘His infidelity with a woman in Africa was hidden for around half a century until he attempted to rekindle an old relationship last year.
—You went so far as to organize a vacation to Australia with the hidden objective of reuniting with a lady you had previously been involved with.
“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, which of course led to arguments between you thereafter.”
Clarke was sentenced to life in prison with a minimum of 21 years and eight months and was told he would die in prison.
“I cannot pass a sentence; he will probably be released in due course,” the judge said.
“To use a phrase, I cannot utter a phrase here that would allow us to see any meaningful light at the end of the tunnel.”
Rebecca Carter of the CPS later said: ‘Helen Clarke was murdered by her 53-year-old husband in horrific circumstances.
‘This has been a tragic case. “Our thoughts and sympathies are with Helen’s family at this difficult time.”
After the hearing, the devastated family spoke of their “unimaginable grief” since Mrs Clarke was “brutally taken from us” in what they described as a “private tragedy”.
“Our mother was a loving, kind and brave woman who greatly appreciated her family, her friends and the world in general,” they said.
“She was strongly committed to her faith, had a laugh that lit up a room, and a great appreciation for life and the beauty of the world.
‘His passing in such a sudden and tragic manner has been devastating; and our pain 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 greatly miss their grandmother, who was so proud of them.”
“We continue to do everything we can to support and protect them as we navigate these very difficult circumstances.”
They expressed their gratitude 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 express our condolences to Helen Clarke’s family and thank them for their cooperation and understanding during an extremely difficult time for them.”