MIDWIFE killer Michael Stirling left his victim’s wedding dress and engagement ring on her bed in an effort to lay a “false trail”, a court has heard.
Stirling, 32, – who had been in a secret “intense” affair with Samantha Eastwood, 28 – also sent fake texts from her phone to her family asking them to leave her alone, prosecutors revealed.
But as Samantha's friends and family desperately searched for the beloved midwife, the landscaper harboured the secret he had murdered her in a "fog of anger" after a row, dumping the 28-year-old's body in a shallow grave in a duvet with masking tape covering her eyes.
Stafford Crown Court today heard how Stirling had even hugged Samantha’s family and said he would help find her – just hours after smothering her at her in Baddeley Green home in Staffs.
Instead, he tried to cover his tracks and posed as Samantha - using her phone to text worried family members and say: "Please leave me alone x" - even pretending she had gone away with another man as the charade continued.
"Composed and callous" Stirling’s sickening crime can be fully revealed by The Sun today for the first time as he is today sentenced for the "brutal" murder.
And Samantha's ex-fiance John Peake - Stirling's brother-in-law - today revealed he believed Stirling had placed Samantha's dress and ring on her bed in an attempt to cast suspicion on him.
Stirling has so far remained impassive in the dock as the details of his affair with Sam were revealed in court, having begun with a "mutual flirtation" in 2013.
The court heard Stirling had been "hounding" the midwife - calling her 128 times in the month before her death while she tried to distance herself from him.
Samantha had been engaged to John Peake, 34, who is the brother of Stirling’s wife Katie and the four of them had been so close they even used to go on holiday together to Whitby.
In January this year John had confronted Stirling whether he was having an affair, but it was denied. His suspicions were only confirmed in court earlier this year when her killer pleaded guilty.
The pressures of that doubt led to their engagement to be called off and the relationship to remain secret.
Weeks before she was killed Samantha had even put her wedding dress up for sale online.
At 7.45am, July 27 she had left work at Royal Stoke University Hospital in the morning as normal and travelled home, before having breakfast, getting changed for bed and going to sleep.
Her secret affair with Stirling saw him regularly go to her house shortly after she arrived home and this happened on the day of her murder.
But by 3pm she was heard screaming “Get off me” out of the window as Stirling attacked and killed her after the row over the relationship.
Describing Samantha's final moments, Charles Miskin QC, defending, told the court: "The argumentative stakes rose. He should have stepped away from all this.
"Miss Eastwood was feisty and spirited and knew how to push his buttons. He pushed her and she fell onto the floor knocking her head on a table. He got down and straddled her.
"With his left hand he was pointing at her face as he talked to her. He was threatening. She laughed at him. She wasn’t scared of him. He put his left hand on her throat, he was still trying to scare her.
"She continued to shout and scream. He lost all his self-control and in a fog of anger, as a result of which, she died."
After killing her, he bound her face with brown parcel tape before putting her inside a duvet cover, before binding her ankles with tape from his van and her head again.
Samantha and ex John Peake, seen with his sister Katie and her husband Michael Stirling
He put her in his van at 5pm and casually drove home to his wife Katie, 32, and his parents, leaving the body there while he had dinner.
His wife described him as "fine and cheerful" that night.
Telling his wife he was searching for Samantha, Stirling went to Caverswall, Staffs at 10.30pm, where he spent 40 minutes digging the grave to hide her body - wearing pyjama bottoms and a white vest top - at the side of a quiet country road.
He later lied to police he had been at the pub at the time, but staff crushed his alibi.
By 11.15pm he had finished and got back in his van.
In the meantime, Samantha's colleagues raised concerns at 7.20pm that she had failed to show up for her next shift.
Her body wasn't found for another eight days, on August 4.
After Samantha was reported missing, her ex-fiance Mr Peake went to check for her at her home - finding her engagement ring and wedding dress laid out on the bed.
The prosecution said the items had been put there by Stirling, hoping to "lay a false trail".
He even texted Samantha's phone himself, writing: "Please come back, it's killing me" and "hope you know what trouble you're causing".
The next day Sam’s relatives received texts from her phone – which alongside her purse has never been found – sent by Stirling pretending to be her.
Gemma had texted her at 9.50am to ask where she was, but Stirling replied in character as his victim.
He said “Please leave me alone” before adding later “I love you all, I’ve had a massive breakdown about stuff.
"I’m so so sorry xx I’ll be OK I’m in touch with a help line. I’m not going to do anything silly I just want to be left alone”.
Gemma then asked her to ring police and forwarded a contact number. The reply was “I just want time for me I’m sick of Facebook, I just want me time.”
Forensic linguists later analysed them to prove Samantha had not sent them and he had to try and throw cops off his scent.
Today, Samantha's family revealed their devastation at her death, with sister Gemma speaking of how the midwife's murderer had had the "audacity" to turn up at their home.
She said: "That night he hugged me after he killed my sister. That will haunt me. When he killed my sister, he might as well have killed me and mum."
A statement from Samantha's mother was also read to the court, with Carole Eastwood saying: "keep thinking it should be the other way around. Samantha should be burying me. I was so excited when Samantha asked me to give her away when she was due to get married. I will never get the chance to do this. I will never get the chance to have a grandchild."
She added: "I just don’t understand why someone would want to do this to my daughter. What did she do to deserve it?"
And Samantha's ex-fiance John Peake revealed he had harboured hopes of getting back together with his future wife, despite their break up.
That night he hugged me after he killed my sister. That will haunt me. When he killed my sister, he might as well have killed me and mumGemma Eastwood
He said: "I always thought we would have got back together. Because of what has happened, I will never know and I will always wonder what could have been."
Stirling was arrested on suspicion of kidnap on Sunday July 29 at Hanley police station, but he was released.
He gave police a prepared statement, saying: "I genuinely have love for that girl and I wouldn’t harm a hair on her head."
Cops had also discovered signals from his phone that showed he was in Caverswall and he was seen in the area acting suspiciously a week later on Thursday lunchtime.
Police were keen to keep Stirling in the dark so on Friday the area was covertly looked at with a Cadaver Dog brought it, but the animal failed to find Sam.
It was when the physical search started on Saturday morning she was found in the shallow grave, buried face down under six inches of soil.
Samantha's body was badly decomposed, with the pathologist concluding the cause of death was unascertained.
Branches and dead leaves had also been placed over the spot to make it look in keeping with the surroundings.
Charles Miskin QC today told the court: “Michael Stirling killed Samantha Eastwood. It was completely out of character, but he did it. He has to face the torment until his own death. It is like a stain that will spread though all his relationships. It will make every aspect of his life.
"Every conversation he has. It will simply never go away. He is haunted by what he did.
"He did try to avoid detection and played a callous game with the emotion of others in the days following the killing, but he has always regretted it and his remorse since then is obvious to all who have seen him."