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Sunderland businessman squirted wife with lighter fluid and threatened to burn her and their pet dogs in horrific attack after family barbecue

Philip Riley
Philip Riley

A businessman squirted flammable liquid over his wife then threatened to "burn" her and their pet dogs during a terrifying attack after a family barbecue.

Philip Riley repeatedly strangled his victim and pushed a dog gate onto her while she was on the floor during the violence a their home in May.

The terrified mum was left with swelling and bruising as well as marks to her neck after the shocking attack at the hands of a man she had considered "the love of my life".

At Newcastle Crown Court Riley, 35, formerly of Ford Crescent, Sunderland, pleaded guilty to assault and has been jailed for two years.

A judge said the strangulation could have proved fatal and the punishment imposed for such attacks must be a deterrent.

Prosecutor Emma Dowling told the court the couple, who were married and had been together for 14 years, had hosted a barbecue for family and friends at their home in Sunderland on May 6.

Towards the end of the event, the court heard Riley started to get "angry" without reason and started to "pace back and forwards, muttering to himself".

When the guests left the house, Riley turned his anger towards his wife, who he has admitted being violent to in the past.

Prosecutor Emma Dowling told the court: "He flipped a chair over, with her sitting on it. She fell and while on the floor he was shouting at her.

"He went to the kitchen and she was trying to calm him down. He grabbed her, with two hands around her throat, and started to apply pressure.

"She panicked and slapped him in the face to get him off her. They ended up on the floor, the defendant on top of her, with the defendant's hands around her throat, applying pressure, enough to cause pain.

"He picked up a dog gate. He put it on top of her, pushed down on the gate, saying something along the lines of 'look what I will do'."

The court heard the victim managed to get into the living room but Riley followed and continued trying to strangle her.

Riley then briefly left his victim alone but the attack took an even more terrifying turn when he returned.

Miss Dowling said: "He returned to her, saying he was going to burn her. He had in his possession a black bottle of lighter fluid from the barbecue.

"It was open and he thrust it towards her a number of times. Fluid was going onto her hoodie.

"She left the room, fearing he might set fire to her.

"She couldn't leave the house because she could hear him threatening to set the dogs on fire."

The court heard after the fire threats, Riley took hold of his wife by the throat again and forced her head upwards using his forehead while grabbing at her face and scratching it.

When he left the room, the victim managed to send a text message to her sister, along with a picture of her injuries, and told her to phone the police.

The victim said in a statement: "This recent incident is the last between us, I have put up with the abuse for too long."

She said she felt embarrassed when people asked about her injuries but felt able to take action to end the relationship once the truth of what happened was out in the open.

She added: "It is hard to accept it was the love of my life who was responsible."

The victim said the attack has "broken her as a person".

Mr recorder Jonathan Sandiford issued Riley with a restraining order to keep him away from his former wife and her home.

The judge told him the strangulation was a serious aggravating factor and added: "It creates the obvious danger that it can result, whether intended or not, in the death of the person being strangled. "

He said the use of flammable liquid was also aggravating and "could easily have led to her being burned, had the fluid become ignited".

The judge told him: "This was frightening, it was dangerous and, in every sense, reckless."

Nicholas Lane, defending, said Riley runs a successful fire protection systems firm and his work takes him across the country and into Europe.

Mr Lane said Riley has "little recollection of what happened" on that night due to his level of intoxication but accepts what his wife said about it.

Mr Lane added: "He is thoroughly ashamed of the behaviour that she described and, through me, he would apologise for the obvious hurt and distress that he has caused to a woman who he had been in a loving and close relationship with for a long period of time."

Mr Lane said Riley has cut down his alcohol consumption.