A MAN has been jailed for life, with a minimum term of 27 years, after being found guilty of murdering a grandmother by stabbing and strangling her in her own home.

The jury in the trial of Christian Darko at Teesside Crown Court took about two and-a-half hours to deliver its unanimous verdict.

There were shouts of “Yes” from family and friends of the victim, 72-year-old Rose Doughty, who packed into the public gallery.

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The trial judge, Mr Justice Walker, said Mrs Doughty, who lived directly below Darko in flats in Fosdyke Green, Netherfields, Middlesbrough, had shown him nothing but kindness, yet had been brutally murdered.

Nick Dry, prosecuting, said it had been a “murder for gain”.

Both sides had agreed that Darko had deliberately taken a knife in order to rob Mrs Doughty.

But Andrew Robertson, mitigating, said he had then panicked and there was no premeditation whatsoever to commit murder.

After the attack, on November 23 last year, Darko, who is originally from Ghana, returned to Mrs Doughty's flat to steal £30 which he then spent on cigarettes, lottery cards and a top-up for his electricity meter.

Neighbours had labelled the 41-year-old, who frequently pestered Mrs Doughty for money, as a “bit of a weirdo” and “always on the scrounge”.

During the trial he was frequently missing from the dock, sometimes refusing to leave his jail cell.

The defendant, who apologised to the victim's family in a letter which expressed his remorse and shame, had denied murder, but admitted manslaughter on the basis of diminished responsibility, having claimed to have heard voices in his head two days before the attack.

The judge, who praised the dignity shown by the family of Mrs Doughty, said Darko had formed a “murderous intent” after deciding to take a knife and rob the victim.

But she had been of a sterner character than he had expected.

“She had no intention of giving money to a 41-year-old with a knife”, he said.

The judge said Darko received weekly benefits, but squandered much of it on lottery tickets.

He added: “Rose Doughty's physical and mental suffering must have been substantial. Death brought an end to her suffering, but not to her family and friends.”

In a statement, the victim's family branded Darko a coward and an “evil man”.

They said: “All of us have had a wonderfully kind hearted mam, nana and mother in law taken from us.

“This has destroyed our lives and left a huge void that can never be filled.”

Detective Inspector Kath Vickers, of Cleveland police, said: "Christian Darko is a dangerous offender who has attempted to hide behind ignorance in failing to acknowledge what he has done.

"However the jury has seen through his lies and has delivered the correct decision.”