A SCRAPYARD worker who battered a grandmother to death with a hammer was finally caught when he confessed to his partner.

Cristian Sabou struck Valerie Graves with a hammer to the head in a ferocious attack in the quiet village of Bosham in December 2013.

It sparked one of the biggest police murder hunts in Sussex history.

More than 4,500 men in the surrounding area were questioned and more than 3,000 volunteered their DNA.

The community was left in a state of fear that a killer was in their midst.

But Sabou, then 22, who had been working at a scrapyard in Chichester, managed to flee two weeks after the murder.

It would be five years before he eventually confessed his guilt after his partner saw an article about the murder on Sabou’s phone and asked him about it.

The father of two had carried out odd jobs for the owners of the house in Smugglers Lane where the murder happened.

The Argus:

Ms Graves was housesitting with her relatives when she was attacked with a claw hammer.

Sabou believed the house would be empty so he could burgle it, but “panicked”, Lewes Crown Court heard.

Judge Christine Laing QC said the attack on Ms Graves was an act of cowardice and said it was Sabou’s “lack of morality” that led him to kill.

Merim Fuad QC, defending, said Sabou, now 28, of Dej in Romania had drunk Jack Daniels for Dutch courage on his first burglary.

Philip Bennetts QC, prosecuting, said Sabou’s DNA was found on the discarded claw hammer found 500 yards from the murder scene.

DNA was also found on the handle of the bedroom door where Ms Graves was killed, and crucially, on her hands.

Sabou’s partner contacted the police in October last year.

She saw a news article on his mobile phone and recognised a hammer that Sabou used while working in a Chichester scrapyard.

When challenged, Sabou was agitated, but confessed to the murder, claiming he did not intent to kill.

The Argus:

At interview he told police he killed her “by accident”, and was extradited to the UK in July this year.

Judge Laing QC said the impact on Ms Graves’ family has been devastating.

She said: “This was a long, complex investigation by Sussex Police. I would commend them for their continued unending efforts.”