Three weeks out of jail, this man burgled his 85 year-old neighbour, set her on fire and killed her

A MAN who beat an elderly neighbour to death in a "merciless" attack had been released from prison on licence just three weeks earlier, a court heard today.

Joan Charlton, 85, was probably still alive when Robert Tozer, 20, from Hull, set her alight after battering her with a bottle during a burglary at her home.

He bought a mobile phone and sports clothes with the 360 he stole from the widow, who lived four doors away in the cul-de-sac where he grew up.

Tozer, who was sentenced to life for Mrs Charlton's murder at Hull Crown Court yesterday, had been released from prison early after serving five months of a 15- month sentence for assault, one of two previous convictions for violence.

He had drunk "excessive" amounts of whisky when he broke into Mrs Charlton's home in West Parade, Hull, late one night looking for money.

Unable to find any after ransacking the living room and an upstairs bedroom, he sat the pensioner in a chair and beat her with a bottle as he tried to find out where the money was.

It was the first in a series of attacks that left Mrs Charlton with every bone in her face broken.

Injuries to her face also suggested she had been kicked and stamped on.

She died with a telephone in her hand after being attacked a final time, either kneeling or falling to the floor while trying to call for help.

Judge Michael Mettyear told Tozer he had committed a "truly shocking" crime, and added: "To facilitate the obtaining of her money you subjected her to a sustained and merciless degree of violence.

"It seems that you left her bleeding and injured downstairs and you went upstairs to continue your search for her money.

"It appears certain she bravely made her way into the hallway to telephone for help, but you thwarted her attempts by attacking her again. Her injuries, particularly her facial injuries, were horrific.

"If that wasn't bad enough, to make matters worse you tried to set fire to her, probably while she was still alive, and then you went outside and spent some of the small amount of money you had taken from her on a new mobile phone and some sports clothes.

"It's chilling to think of the pain and anguish that she must have suffered in the last few hours of her life and the sympathy of the court goes out to her friends and family." Police scientists found clotted blood on the wall behind the chair, suggesting "some minutes" passed between the first assault and an attack which caused a second stain.

Blood spatters on the ceiling were likely to have come from the weapon as it was raised above Mrs Charlton's head, the court heard.

Her DNA was found on the broken edge of the bottle, suggesting Tozer had hit her with it again after it had smashed.

Before leaving the house Tozer put parts of a bamboo wallhanging on her body and set it alight, which caused damage to her clothing.

Mrs Charlton was found dead on June 11 this year by Catherine Foster, a friend who used to visit her fortnightly to discuss religion.

The burglary and murder were committed at some point between June 4 and June 8.

In a statement read to the court on her behalf, Mrs Charlton's sister, Barbara Beecroft, said she now had trouble sleeping, wakes at the slightest sound, and could barely comprehend what Tozer had done.

She said: "One blow would have been bad, but to beat her in the way he did and set fire to her goes beyond bad, it was evil." Malcolm Swift QC, for Tozer, said: "Clearly, this is a case in which, quite rightly, feelings of anger and indignation in the minds of right-thinking members of society are engendered." He said the attack "must have occurred on the spur of the moment".

The court heard Mrs Charlton, who served in the Auxiliary Territorial Service during the Second World War, had lived alone almost as a "recluse" since the death of her husband in 1979.

She worked after the war as an usherette in a local cinema.

Mrs Charlton, who had lived in the terraced house since 1969, was described to the court by her family as a caring and "very intelligent" woman, who could be strong-willed and opinionated "to the point of rudeness".

Speaking after the hearing, Det Supt Dena Fleming of Humberside Police said Tozer had shown no remorse and added: "It was just an horrific, barbaric attack on an old lady in her own home, which is the place we all think we should be safe." Tozer, who admitted murder and burglary, must serve a minimum of 22 years, less the 90 days he spent on remand.

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