A "possessive and jealous" man accused of murdering his ex-girlfriend, two of her siblings and their mother's partner had been jailed previously for killing a woman he was having an affair with, a jury was told yesterday.

Mark Goldstraw was convicted in 2001 of the manslaughter of a married woman he had been seeing after he beat her around the head with a mallet when she decided not to leave her husband, Stafford Crown Court was told.

Goldstraw, aged 31, from Compton House, Leek, was jailed for seven years and released in 2004, 18 months before the fatal fire for which he is on trial.

Opening the case, Christopher Hotten QC, prosecuting, said the fact Goldstraw had killed before did not mean he was guilty of the four murders in the blaze in Cheddleton, near Leek, Staffordshire, on March 9 this year.

The defendant's former girlfriend Samantha Carter, aged 16, her seven-year-old brother Marcus, ten-year-old sister Patricia, and mother's partner, Roderick Hine, aged 44, all died in the fire.

Detailing Goldstraw's previous conviction, Mr Hotten told the jury: "You will appreciate, the fact he has killed before doesn't and cannot prove on its own that he killed on March 9.

"The purpose of telling you of what took place then and calling evidence to support that does not prove on its own terms his guilt for these murders, but we say it's open to you to conclude that that evidence demonstrates a propensity, an inclination, towards extreme violence in the face of rejection.

"In the presence of all the other evidence, is his previous conviction simply an irrelevant and unfortunate coincidence or does it help to explain why this man of all men would react with murderous violence when others would not have done?"

The court was told Goldstraw's relationship with Samantha had ended a couple of months before the fatal fire.

Mr Hotten said Goldstraw had been a friend of Mr Hine and had even looked after their house while the family went on holiday.

But he said after the relationship between he and Samantha soured, Goldstraw became abusive.

He said that in the weeks running up to the fire Goldstraw had tried to persuade Samantha, who worked at Thorntons, in Leek, to get back together with him.

He had even told her he had been diagnosed with a brain tumour in a bid to win her back. Giving evidence, the children's mother, Amanda Carter, described how Goldstraw and Samantha had been introduced to one another through her partner Mr Hine.

She said the defendant had started to make regular visits and would occasionally spend the night but that he "blew hot and cold" with her daughter.

"One minute he was saying he loved her, the next minute he was calling her names," she said.

Mrs Carter told the court she had noticed a "dramatic change" in the couple's relationship a few months before the fire, with Goldstraw sending Samantha "horrible texts".

" 'Roddy' told him to go away and stop pestering and coming round. I don't think he took it very good," she added.

Asked about events on March 9, Mrs Carter, who was speaking from behind a screen, described how she left for a night shift at the nearby nursing home where she worked as usual.

Mrs Carter, who separated from the children's father in 2003, said she always hugged her family before she left and that they waved her off in the car.

That evening, she said she remembered having to return home to pick up some medication she had forgotten.

She told the court she phoned the house at 10.30pm and spoke to Mr Hine, who was reading Marcus a bedtime story.

When she called back about an hour later the phone just rang out, she recalled.

Mr Hotten asked: "Was there any reply?"

Mrs Carter replied: "No, there wasn't."

"You drew the conclusion they were asleep?" the lawyer said.

"Yes I did," Mrs Carter replied. The court was told earlier that a neighbour heard a loud explosion and the sound of shattering glass coming from the property at about 11.42pm and that unsuccessful efforts were made to rescue the family, who were trapped inside.

Mr Hotten said Goldstraw had still not given a complete account of his whereabouts at the time of the fire.

He said the defendant had accepted that items of clothing found in a black bin bag outside his mother's house, where he lived, after the fire, belonged to him.

Mr Hotten said these smelled strongly of petrol and bore scorch marks and evidence of fire damage.

The lawyer said scientists called in to examine the scene had concluded that the fire had been started deliberately with the use of petrol and a naked flame.

The trial continues.