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Man goes on trial accused of burning sister to death

Accused: Stephen Archer Photo: MEN Syndication

The trial of a man accused of burning his sister to death has begun.

Stephen Archer, 50, is alleged to have murdered Julie Archer, 49, who died on March 3 following an incident at her home at Surbiton Road, Newton Heath, Manchester, three days earlier.

Mr Archer, of Victoria Street, Openshaw, denies charges of murder and arson with intent to endanger life in Court 3 at Manchester Crown Court.

Julie Archer died three days after being set on fire Credit: ITV Granada

The jury was shown a bundle of images containing a plan of the scene at Surbiton Road, and photos of the inside and outside of the property.

They were also given images of the defendant’s flat - and letters, notes and cards sent by the defendant.

Both charges the defendant faces, the court heard, refer to the same incident.

Prosecutor Mark Kellet said:

The Crown say the defendant Stephen Archer poured petrol mixed with mineral spirit over his sister, set fire to her and consequently to her house.

– Prosecutor Mark Kellet

Julie Archer’s daughter, Qubilah ‘Bibby’ Cunningham, was upstairs in the property at the time.

The Crown say, in short, that on the 29th February, Stephen Archer attended his sister Julie’s house. When he went to the property he was armed with a Pepsi bottle that contained a mixture that, the Crown say, was of aggressively flammable liquid.

While Julie was sat on the two-seater sofa in the sitting room he emptied the bottle onto her and ignited the vapour. In setting fire to Julie the Crown say the defendant must have intended to cause at the very least really serious harm or to kill her. And, because he knew his niece, Julie’s daughter, was upstairs in the house, the Crown say he must have intended to endanger her life by setting fire to Julie in the house.

As a result of the fire Julie suffered frankly horrific injuries with 95 per cent burns to her body, despite being transported to hospital by helicopter, she died on March 3 as a result of those burns.

– Prosecutor Mark Kellet

Stephen Archer is the oldest of four children - his parents being Alan Geoffrey Archer and Wendy Archer. The defendant’s parents split up while he was young, and Stephen Archer and sister Julie were taken into care. But over the course of their childhood the two didn’t get along, and would ‘often fight as children’.

All four children had little contact with their father growing up, but in November 2014 their father became ill and moved into the Brookdale View care home.

While there he had regular contact with his daughters Gillian and Julie - but specifically instructed staff at the home he didn’t want to see Stephen. On one occasion Stephen turned up at his father’s nursing home, and was turned away but because he didn’t want to see him. Stephen responded by putting posts on Facebook saying the care home was ‘bleeding his father dry.’ His father died on the 26 January this year, leaving his money and his flat to Gillian and Julie.

A few weeks after, David Russell Archer, brother of Alan Geoffrey Archer, also died.

Stephen Archer then began to put messages on Facebook saying Gillian and Julie were responsible for both men’s deaths, Mr Kellet said.

This prompted an angry exchange between Stephen and Gillian. Stephen suggested that Julie killed their father by poisoning him.

And, in a text three days before the fire, Archer claimed Gillian had been recruited by his sister Julie to ‘finish him off’ with poisoned food.

He also put messages on Facebook saying he was his father’s next-of-kin. Told he wasn’t, he said to Gillian:

If fate was to strike you down, I’ll become next of kin.

– Stephen Archer

On Monday February 29, Qubilah Cunningham was at home with her mother at Surbiton Road, Newton Heath. She was getting ready for college when she heard her mother speaking downstairs. Her mother told her it was to ‘Uncle Stephen’.

She heard her mother invite him into the house and he walked into the lounge, wearing a dark cap and backpack.

Despite the animosity, Julie seemed fine with him being there, and her daughter could hear her calling him ‘darling’. But, while she was getting ready, Qubliah heard a ‘large explosion like an earthquake’ shaking the building. Then she smelt smoke, and noticed her dog becoming agitated.

When Qubilah went to the landing, she saw thick black smoke coming from downstairs. She called 999, went to the front window, opened the window, but didn’t want to jump the 10ft drop.

She stayed on the ledge, screaming to neighbours for help. Whilst there she saw her mother Julie walking from the front door.

Julie by that stage was completely naked, all her clothes had burned from her - neighbours trying to help describe the horrific nature of her injuries as ‘like something from a horror film’.

– Prosecutor Mark Kellet

Witness Daniel Adusei said her clothes had melted, leaving an imprint on her skin, and said her skin had ‘melted from her body.’

However, once the mother heard her daughter screaming for help, the court heard, Julie turned, looked at her daughter and started trying to drag herself back to the house to rescue her daughter trapped upstairs.

Qubliah knew her mother was trying to help her - she tried to get down to get to her mother. But, confronted by fire and pitch black smoke, she went back to the bedroom.

Knowing she would have to leave her dog behind, she was forced to leap from the house naked.

Julie Archer was cared for by paramedics, firefighters and police. She told them that Stephen Archer had done this to her and was still in the house. She told a helicopter paramedic:

He’s done it, he’s thrown it at me.

– Julie Archer

At Wythenshawe hospital she was put in an induced coma. She also told a nursing sister:

My brother Stephen (did it) he’s been threatening to kill me and my sister for three weeks since our dad died.

– Julie Archer

She told another nurse her brother was going to the the toilet, and the next thing she knew she was on fire.

A fire investigation dog handler went to the scene on March 1. Traces of flammable liquid on a bottle and screw top lid were found. Petrol mixed with mineral spirit, the court heard, would cause the fuel to burn hotter and longer.

Gillian Archer said Stephen had a longstanding obsession with petrol bombs, and told her he kept them at his flat for his own protection.

The day after the fire, police recovered a notepad from Stephen Archer’s home.

It contained the message:

Unlucky k***heads, had your notice, LOL I will be picking youse off.

– Notepad from Stephen Archer's home

On the 29th, whilst still wanted, it is alleged, Mr Archer sent two cards to his mother’s address. One was a birthday card and note to his mother, the other was a ‘get well soon card’ to his sister Julie.

His DNA was found on the stamps, the prosecutor said, claiming that the correspondence contained ‘clear admission’ to setting his sister alight.

The message to Mr Archer’s mother Wendy read:

Just a note to say I’m truly sorry for what I did to Julie, but I believe she deserved it for what she did to my dad.

– Card to Stephen Archer's mother

The message to his sister read:

Karma has punished you through me, but I couldn’t kill you and never will, but I cant forgive you for what you did to my dad and uncle....was it a secret deal to stitch me up?

– Card to Stephen Archer's sister