A LANDSCAPE gardener from Stoke-on-Trent has been sentenced to life imprisonment today (3 December) for the murder of Staffordshire midwife Samantha Eastwood.
Michael James Stirling, aged 32, killed Samantha in a fit of rage before burying her in wasteland in an effort to hide what he had done. Her body was found by officers eight days after she had been reported missing.
Stirling, of Cromer Road, was told he must serve a minimum of 16 years and 299 days behind bars following his appearance at Stafford Crown Court.
He had admitted to killing Samantha, aged 28, at her home in Greenside Avenue, Baddeley Green on 27 July, at an earlier hearing.
Stirling told the court he had been in a longstanding affair with Samantha and after an argument and a struggle, when he was in a rage, he placed one hand onto her throat and the other on her mouth and nose. As a result of these actions she died.
He then wrapped her body in a duvet cover and covered her face with masking tape before burying her.
Following her disappearance, Stirling began to spin a web of lies and deceit in an effort to fool police and Samantha’s family into thinking she had gone away on her own by using her mobile phone to send messages to her family.
However, Stirling was already under suspicion by officers from the force’s Major and Organised Crime team, as Samantha’s disappearance was totally out of character and he’d told officers he was the last person to see her alive.
Detectives used an expert forensic linguist to prove the messages allegedly from Samantha to her family could not have been sent by her.
Officers also found evidence that showed Stirling’s vehicle had been in areas where Samantha’s phone had been used to send the messages.
The court heard how Stirling had gone to Samantha’s home after she had finished a night shift as a midwife at the Royal Stoke University Hospital.
He claimed that they had argued and words had been said, which caused him to go into a rage and kill her, before placing her body in his van and burying it in rural ground near Caverswall.
Samantha was reported missing to police on 27 July after she failed to turn up at work the next evening.
Police launched a major investigation to find Samantha, including carrying out extensive searches and CCTV enquires, together with plain clothes work and daily media and social media appeals.
Stirling was originally arrested by officers on July 29 on suspicion of kidnapping the missing midwife.
Following investigations, Stirling’s white work van was caught on CCTV in areas where messages had been sent using Samantha’s phone and he was later seen around waste land near Caverswall which led officers searching for Samantha to her body, hidden in a shallow grave just off Tickhill Lane, Caverswall.
Stirling was re-arrested on suspicion of Samantha’s murder and charged.
Senior Investigating Officer, Detective Inspector Dan Ison, said: “This was a major investigation for the force, with each and every one of my team determined to find Samantha from the moment she went missing until tragically her body was recovered.
“Stirling came under suspicion very quickly, as he was the last person to see Samantha alive. We had an expert examine messages that allegedly been sent by Samantha to her family and he concluded that these had not been typed from her. Between Samantha going missing and Stirling being charged, we were able to track his movements through the use of his van, witnesses and CCTV which ultimately led to Samantha’s body being recovered.
“Our thoughts now remain with Samantha’s family and all who knew and loved her, whether that be through her role as a midwife and/or as a friend. Samantha had a positive impact on many other lives and her loss is a dreadful waste of life. I hope today’s sentencing now gives some degree of closure and allows all that knew her to move forward with grieving for their loss.”
Gemma Eastwood, Samantha’s sister, said: “Justice has been served today. No matter the outcome nothing can bring my sister back. I have lost my best friend and sister, my mum has lost a kind caring and loving daughter. Our lives will never be the same.
“We would like to thank our close friends and family for all the love and support through this tragic time. We would like to thank Staffordshire Police for putting such a strong case together in such a small space of time. We would like to thank our family liaison officers for the constant support and guidance.
“We ask that everyone respects our privacy throughout this difficult time. Samantha has gone but she will never be forgotten.”