A man has been arrested on suspicion of murder after the body of an 88-year-old widow was discovered in a street. 

The victim was named locally as Evelyn Stevens, who recently told friends she was being terrorised by a man who had befriended her.

One friend said just hours before Mrs Stevens died she had changed the locks of her Hove flat and called the police.

Mrs Stevens’ body was found by a member of the public at 7am yesterday just outside the front door of the block of flats where she lived in Baltimore Court, The Drive, Hove.

A window of her flat was open and Mrs Stevens, whose husband Harold died a few years ago, was not dressed for the outside, police said.

The police investigation centred on a spot directly beneath the window – just yards from a brightly decorated Christmas tree.

Mrs Stevens’ body was not moved for a number of hours, and was covered by a blue police tent.

Sussex Police said they had “no evidence to suggest that she was definitely pushed”.

They also refused to comment on whether she had reported a man to police or changed her locks.

Jo Hewitt, a neighbour of Mrs Stevens, yesterday said: “She was a lovely, eccentric lady who loved to wear hats and had bright red hair. “She had spoken about a man who had befriended her but terrified her.

“She said she called the police last night and had changed the locks.”

Officers initially said her death was “unexplained”. But at 5.10pm they confirmed they had launched a murder inquiry.

A 49-year-old local man, who was known to Mrs Stevens but was not a relative, was arrested yesterday afternoon on suspicion of murder.

Last night he remained in custody at a Sussex police station. A spokeswoman said: “We are gathering all evidence available. “One line of inquiry is whether there had been previous contact between the woman and police.

“This is currently being looked into and any appropriate action will be taken.”

She said at this stage it was not believed the police watchdog, the Independent Police Complains Commission (IPCC), had been informed.

The IPCC investigates cases where there has been contact between a victim and police prior to a death.

Chief Inspector Claire Pridgeon said: “Detectives are working to establish the full circumstances surrounding the death of the woman and I would appeal for anyone who saw or heard anything suspicious in The Drive before 7am this morning to contact police.”

A post mortem is due to be held today. Anyone with information which may assist police with their inquiries is asked to contact Sussex Police on 101 quoting Operation Atlantic.