Romanian man jailed for life for 2013 murder of house-sitter

A Romanian man who bludgeoned grandmother Valerie Graves to death in a burglary-gone-wrong has been jailed for life.

The killing of the 55-year-old artist at Christmas time shocked the small village of Bosham in West Sussex.

She was found with extensive head injuries in the ground-floor bedroom of a luxury £1.6 million property where she was house-sitting.

The beloved mum sustained extensive head injuries caused by forces similar to a road crash, a court heard.

Cristian Sabou, previously of Dej, Romania, pleaded guilty to her murder when he appeared at Lewes Crown Court on Monday.

The 28-year-old Sabou appeared in the packed courtroom wearing a beige jumper, flanked by three security guards.

Speaking through an interpreter, he pleaded guilty to a charge of murder.

Murder victim Valerie Graves
Murder victim Valerie Graves (Family handout/PA)

Prosecutor Philip Bennetts QC told the court that Sabou had entered the house as a would-be burglar, expecting it to be empty.

He had worked odd jobs for the homeowners in the previous couple of months.

The court heard that he had been informed that a safe in the house contained a large amount of cash and ingots.

When he entered the home he found Ms Graves, and attacked her.

Sabou struck her with a hammer, causing horrific injuries to her head as she tried to defend herself.

Mr Bennetts said: “There were extensive injuries to her head.

“The level of force used was extreme. Not dissimilar from the forces experienced during road traffic collisions.”

Ms Graves had just moved down from Scotland to be closer to her family, with whom she spent Christmas before she was found dead on December 30.

The killing sparked one of the longest murder hunts in Sussex Police history, but it was not until July 2019 that Sabou was arrested in Romania and charged and extradited to the UK.

Following Ms Graves’ murder, her son Tim Wood said: “She was a free spirit who enjoyed her life and was a talented artist.

“She had lived in Scotland for about 10 years, a place she loved and which inspired her passion for art.

“This has been devastating for the family and has come as a complete shock.”

Police at the house of Valerie Graves in Smuggler’s Lane, Bosham, West Sussex
Police at the house of Valerie Graves in Smuggler’s Lane, Bosham, West Sussex (Chris Ison/PA)

Her family described her as “an eternal student who was always hungry for a new challenge”.

Judge Christine Laing QC said: “Rather than simply running away in the hope you could not be identified by a woman waking from sleep you conducted this horrific attack on Ms Graves.

“It was your dishonesty and greed that took you to the house. It was your cowardice and lack of morality that caused you to kill Valerie Graves.”

She jailed him for life with a minimum term of 23 years and 272 days.

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