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'Get me two coffins' Man's chilling final request to the police before he shot his wife in the head and then turned the gun on himself.

Byline: Emma Pearson

A 74-YEAR-OLD man called the police and asked for two coffins and an undertaker.

Then he shot his wife in the head and turned the gun on himself.

Robert and Vera Stirling had been married for more than 50 years when police broke into their secluded house in Presteigne, Powys, and found their bodies lying side by side in bed.

Yesterday, the last minutes of an unhappy marriage were related to a coroner's court in Llandrindod Wells.

The inquest heard how an inspector in the Dyfed Powys operations room had received an emergency call from a "calm and rational" Mr Stirling in the early hours of Sunday, June 17 this year.

Mr Stirling stated that there was a "slight problem" and that two coffins and an undertaker would be needed.

Police officers responding to the call made their grim discovery at 1.40 that morning.

But, two days later, two of the couple's six children received cassette tapes recorded by Mr Stirling describing "matrimonial difficulties".

Det Constable Gareth Owen said: "Within the text of that message, it would be said that Mr Stirling harboured a certain amount of mistrust. It would appear that he had made a conscious decision to carry out the act."

The officer told the court it was clear from forensic and ballistic evidence and from the tapes that Mr Stirling had shot his wife before shooting himself. He said there was no suspicion of any third party involvement in their deaths.

Powys coroner John Hollis described the incidents as "horrendous".

He said: "The tape indicates the marriage of Mr and Mrs Stirling was not happy and that situation continued up to the deaths of both of these elderly people and indeed, in my view, was the pre-empting factor in their deaths."

The cause of death for both Mr and Mrs Stirling was given by the pathologist as gunshot wounds to the head.

Mr Hollis recorded a verdict of unlawful killing on Mrs Stirling and suicide on Mr Stirling. The court heard that the couple, originally from Newcastle, married in 1948 and had six children.

Mr Stirling had been a successful businessman who ran an anti-corrosion business before purchasing a caravan park in Shropshire.

He sold the park in 1988 for what the court heard was "a considerable sum of money" and he and his wife bought a property called Clatterbrune House in Presteigne where their bodies were found.

Det Con Owen said police investigations had shown the Stirlings were financially secure and took regular trips abroad. "They appeared to be enjoying a comfortable retirement, " he added.

The couple had both joined the local leisure centre and taken part in keep fit classes there.

They had also registered on a computer course.

However, Mr Stirling had been diagnosed as suffering from cancer of the bladder eight years before his death.

The disease was said to be under control but he was also suffering from cardiovascular disease which, the court heard, would have required surgery at a later date.

CAPTION(S):

CRIME SCENE: This is the house in which Robert Stirling shot his wife, Vera, before killing himself
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Publication:Daily Post (Liverpool, England)
Date:Sep 26, 2001
Words:523
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