A former airline pilot was sentenced today to 24 years behind bars for murdering his wife by disabling her airbag, undoing her seat belt, and then intentionally driving into a tree.

53-year-old Iain Lawrence of Leicestershire, England, was found guilty by a jury of his peers after just eight hours of deliberations.

In his sentencing, the Leicester Crown Court Justice called the manner in which Lawrence killed his 47-year-old wife Sally "brutal and carefully planned."

"It was not chance but the result of your careful and cold- blooded planning that you came away from the collision with a few bruises while Sally died of catastrophic injuries," Mr Justice Leggatt said. "You thought that the crash would be seen as a tragic accident and that you would get away with murder."

Prosecutors successfully showed that Lawrence had ensured that the passenger-side airbag in his Peugeot 406 was deactivated before he either tricked or forced Sally to get in.

After a short drive, Lawrence then drove straight into a tree at 50mph, unclipping Sally's seat belt just prior to the crash.

Lawrence claimed in court that a leg spasm had prevented him from hitting the brakes, but a witness noted that he had feigned unconsciousness after firefighters arrived following the October 2012 incident.

"It was as if a child was squeezing his eyes shut pretending to be asleep," said Peter Hawkins.

Lawrence and his wife of 12 years, with whom he shared a 10-year-old son, were going through a nasty divorce at the time, and Sally had expressed concern to friends that her husband might try to kill her after he found out that she was seeing someone else.

Sally's family cheered the verdict, but mourned the businesswoman's loss. "On the day Sally died, a part of us died with her," Sally's sister Catherine Kudhail is quoted as saying.

[H/T: Newser, handout photos via Leicester Mercury]