Belfast Telegraph

Man jailed for strangling pensioner

A man who strangled a pensioner to death 25 years ago has been sentenced to a minimum of 19 years in prison.

Samuel Dunwoody, 52, was stealing money from her house in North Belfast and killed her to ensure there was no witness, a court in the city heard.

He was caught after police revisited the case and found his DNA under the fingernails of victim Margaret Telford, 68.

He had a string of convictions for violence against women.

Judge Corinne Philpott QC said: "You killed someone who did you no harm and offered you kindness and you thought you got away with it."

Mrs Telford was discovered strangled to death with a ligature at her home in Twaddell Avenue, North Belfast, on February 4 1988 by a shopkeeper. A pulled-out telephone wire was lying nearby.

She also received injuries to her face and head.

A police reinvestigation was launched recently. Testing of DNA samples from the victim found a match with Dunwoody, from High Tower, Birmingham, in the West Midlands.

The killer has a string of violent convictions for assault causing actual bodily harm and battery, including attacking the same woman three times between 1982 and 2009.

Prosecutors argued that he was looking for money at the pensioner's home when she found him and he killed her to ensure her silence, a case the judge and jury accepted.

The judge said she knew her killer and invited him into her house.

He said he was in prison at the time of her death, subsequently proved to be untrue, but admitted his guilt on the eve of sentencing.

Judge Philpott sentenced him for murder at Belfast Crown Court and said the defendant fought the case on the grounds that he did not intend to kill.

"I am sentencing you on the basis that you did have an intent to kill," she said.

He was known to the pensioner through her work aiding him and his family, donating clothes on occasion. He had a "dysfunctional" background and spent time in a home for problem children.

"She had shown kindness, as indeed she seems to have done with everyone who came into contact with her," the judge said.

"She was going to make you tea, you found some excuse to go upstairs."

The judge added that she realised everything was not quite right and in the circumstances of that confrontation he strangled her.

She said: "You took advantage of a 68-year-old woman who in the past had shown you kindness and you went there to steal.

"When you realised she was going to contact the authorities, you knew that your licence would be revoked and that you would have to serve another two years in prison and it is the impression of this court that you were not going to have that."

Ciaran Murphy QC, for the prosecution, said Mrs Telford was vulnerable and trying to contact police when she was killed.

"It was to thwart this that the defendant assaulted her and ultimately killed her," he said.

He made admissions to probation officers before sentencing, accepting responsibility but seeking to minimise his role, the prosecutor said.

Her son Peter Telford said the family was now able to start a new life after a long wait for justice.

"It is like taking a breath of fresh air after holding your breath under water for a long time, you can breath out," he said.

He paid tribute to her as a nice person, quiet, good fun and generous.

Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) detective inspector Peter Montgomery said that at the time of her death she was a widow, living alone and in poor health.

"However, Samuel Dunwoody decided to exploit that by murdering a much-loved mother, friend and neighbour," he said.

"Today justice has been served for Peggy and serves as a reminder that although a large passage of time has elapsed police will regularly review cases and where there are new opportunities presented we will pursue them vigorously."

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