A MAN extradited back to the UK has admitted bludgeoning a grandmother to death with a claw hammer.

Artist Valerie Graves, 55, was found dead in bed at a £1.6million property in Bosham, near Chichester, while her family slept upstairs in December 2013.

She had been house-sitting for a friend over the Christmas period, but received multiple "horrific" injuries as she fought scrapyard worker Cristian Sabou.

He was there to burgle gold and cash but "panicked", launching a ferocious attack with the hammer as Ms Graves tried to the defend herself.

The police launched a murder inquiry and screened 3,000 men for DNA, and interviewed thousands of men in the area, leaving the community in fear that the killer was still in their midst.

Sabou, now 28, had fled to his native Romania. He was tracked down to Dej in the north west of the country, and was extradited under the European Arrest Warrant in july.

Today he appeared at Lewes Crown Court before Judge Christine Laing QC where he was jailed for life.

She said it was his "pure greed" which led him to the property in Smuggler's Lane and said: "It was cowardice and lack of morality that led you to kill."

Sabou must serve a minimum term of 24 years beforehe can be considered for parole.

He wore a beige sweatshirt with a Poppy, and a white rosary bead necklace in the dock, and spoke to confirm his name and to plead guilty to the murder.

The Argus:

Kerim Fuad QC, defending, told the court that father-of-two Sabou had completed odd jobs at the home and accepted responsbility for the "dreadful" and "horrific" attack.

He had drank Jack Daniels for Dutch courage on his first burglary.

Philip Bennetts QC, prosecuting, said Ms Graves had suffered multiple head injuries and skull fractures, and also had defensive injuries on her hands.

Without an initial suspect, Ms Graves' family had themselves come under suspicion. But DNA was found on Ms Graves' hand, on a door handle, and on the hammer later found dumped.

Ms Graves had moved from Scotland to Bracklesham Bay, West Sussex, shortly before her death on December 30, 2013.

The Argus: Valerie Graves

She died just days after her birthday while house-sitting at the Smuggler’s Lane mansion - with her mother Eileen, her sister Jan and her sister’s partner Nigel Acres - for family friends the Chamberlains, who were on holiday in Costa Rica for Christmas.

Ms Graves was last seen alive at around 10pm the night before. Her family found her the following morning on December 30.

In court she was described as a talented and much loved mother, grandmother, daughter, sister, partner and friend. 

She was studying a masters degree in art.