A BULLYING boyfriend was this afternoon found guilty of murdering mother-of-five Natalie Saunders after controlling her life during their short relationship.

Stephen Charlton was told his defence that an intruder must have crept into their bedroom as he slept and left the 33-year-old with horrific injuries was “utterly ludicrous”.

The unemployed drug-user is now facing a life sentence for the killing at Miss Saunders’ home in Tomlinson Way, Middlesbrough, last October.

The jury of six men and six women took just 90 minutes to find the 24-year-old guilty of murder after a seven-day trial at Teesside Crown Court.

During the trial, prosecutor Peter Makepeace, QC, described that state Miss Saunders was found in as “mutilated beyond description, hideously deformed”.

Charlton said he woke to find her on the floor of their bedroom on October 7 last year, but had no idea how she suffered her multiple injuries.

At first he seemed to suggest she must have fallen out of bed during the night, but then appeared to blame an intruder.

A post-mortem examination showed she had more than 50 separate injuries, and had suffered three blows to the face, 13 blows to the torso, 25 blows to the lower limbs and ten blows which she deflected with the backs of her arms.

The prosecution said as she lay with those injuries, Charlton strangled her with his bare hands, then rang his father rather than an ambulance.

A number of times during the couple’s four-month relationship, neighbours or passers-by rang the police to report angry arguments and him making threats to kill Miss Saunders.

One neighbour told police and the jury that Miss Saunders “was living an awful life and was effectively being tortured”.

Chalrlton, who had denied murder, will be sentenced tomorrow morning By Judge Stephen Ashurst.

During his opening to the jury last week, Mr Makepeace said Miss Saunders was found dead "looking as though she had been hit by a truck" after the murderous attack.

She was terrified by Charlton, who warned her "watch what happens" when she had previously called the police.

Her death was a "horrible certainty" which was "almost inevitable" due to the violence inflicted on her by Charlton for the duration of their brief relationship, which began when they met in town. The following day, Charlton effectively moved in with her.

However, he claimed that he was not responsible and said he found Miss Saunders in that condition lying dead on the floor, near him in bed, and insisted during the trial that he did not notice any bruises on her naked body.

Charlton went on to explain that he believed someone had broken into the house and carried out the fatal attack as he lay in bed beside her – but he was not undisturbed.

During his closing speech yesterday, Mr Makepeace, described his account as “demonstrably nonsensical” and said: “It is difficult to imagine a more nonsensical defence, a weaker, less credible or desperate defence.”

He asked the jury: “Is there a single piece of evidence presented before you that suggests anybody other than Stephen Charlton committed this murder? Is there? Trawl your memory and ask.”

Charlton had a scratch mark on his arm and injuries to his knuckles when he was arrested, but claimed to have been asleep while the violent attack took place.

Mr Makepeace described the scene when emergency crews arrived at the house – called only after Charlton had twice spoken to his father on the phone.

He said: "The paramedic went upstairs. There he found Natalie Saunders laid on the floor between the bed and the wall. She was laid on her back. She was naked save for a small hand towel covering her genital area. Her head was resting on a pillow.

"She plainly had two extremely severe black eyes, with massive swelling and bruising to her face and head. 

"There was blood on her chest and about her head and on the ground surrounding her body. It was immediately obvious she had been severely assaulted.”

"One of the paramedics described it as being as if she had been the victim of a road traffic accident and she had been hit by a truck. "

Mr Makepeace said Miss Saunders was "plainly terrified" of Charlton, who had dominated her since the day they met.

He told the court: "Far from being an unforeseen event, this killing had a horrible, almost inevitability about it. 

“You will hear from friends of Miss Saunders who were aware she was regularly covered in bruises and physical hurts. Injuries she would seek to hide from the public eye.

"To those few she could trust she confided Stephen Charlton was the perpetrator of those injuries. Those friends were conscious she was at times plainly terrified of Charlton and felt utterly helpless in freeing herself from him.

 "There are neighbours who will detail the regularity with which they heard Miss Saunders being abused by the defendant. 

"So affected was Miss Turner, the neighbour from the address backing onto the house, that she rang the police and urged them to intervene. 

"You will hear her 999 call in which she relates contemporaneously the aggression she can hear perpetrated upon Miss Saunders by this accused. The Police did attend the address in response. On numerous occasions you will hear the police sought to intervene but ultimately to no effect.

 "It is clear the violence and controlling behaviour Stephen Charlton inflicted upon Miss Saunders chiefly took place in private.

“Perhaps, most chillingly, you will hear a 13-minute 999 call made on the July 31 by Miss Saunders herself. That call was recorded. By this date she had been in a relationship with Mr Charlton for no more than about six or seven weeks. 

"It is clear he had already moved into her home on an almost permanent basis, he had already begun his exercise of power, he had already begun his campaign of violence. 

"Miss Saunders tells the operator she had asked him to leave and he had threatened to put her in hospital – he had used the phrase “watch what happens”. 

"She told the operator she had marks all over her body from what he had done to her previously and said she was fearful of what more he might do next. She was, in short, terrified of him and his capacity for violence.

"That call was about nine weeks prior to her death. The violence was quickly deployed, controlling in nature, persistent and repeated. The violence was escalating and her vulnerability evident. 

"With the horrible certainty of hindsight her murder now seems almost inevitable.”

There court heard that a card for women’s refuge My Sisters Place was found in Miss Saunders’ belongings after her murder.

When Mr Makepeace was cross-cross-examining Charlton, he asked: “What is your defence in this case?”

The defendant replied: “I did not do this to Natalie Saunders.”

Mr Makepeace: “You understand just saying ‘I do not remember doing this’ is not a defence, or ‘I don’t know what happened’ isn’t a defence?”

Charlton: “I understand.”

Mr Makepeace: “And you understand just standing there brim-full of self-pity isn’t a defence?”

Charlton: “I understand.”

Charlton went on to tell the court that he did not love Miss Saunders, but he did not know how she felt about him.

He said they often argued when they had been taking diazepam tablets and dinking vodka, as they had been the night before Miss Saunders’ body was found.

Mr Makepeace: “You were an animal in that relationship, weren’t you?”

Charlton: “No, I wasn’t.”

Mr Makepeace: “The running sore in your relationship was your brutality.”

Charlton: "No, it wasn’t.”