MURDERER Stephen Charlton will spend at lest the next 21 years behind bars after his life sentence tariff was set today for the brutal killing of his partner.

The 24-year-old – described as a “cowardly evil monster” by his victim’s family – was told by a judge he was “heartless, callous and uncaring”.

Charlton savagely beat to death mother-of-five Natalie Saunders at her home in Tomlinson Way Middlesbrough last October.

He denied murder and invented “an utterly ludicrous” story about an intruder being responsible for inflicting more than 85 injuries on the 33-year-old.

But he was found guilty within 90 minutes at the end of a seven-day trial at Teesside Crown Court on Wednesday afternoon.

He returned to court this morning to learn what the minimum tariff of his sentence would be from Judge Stephen Ashurst, who told him he will only be released when the Parole Board consider it is safe for him to be.

The judge told him: “It is important that you and everyone concerned with this case understand what this sentence means.

“The minimum term is not a fixed term. It will be for the Parole Board to say at that time whether or not you will be released.

“If it remains necessary for the protection of the public, you will continue to be detained after that date, and, therefore, you may never be released.” 

A post-mortem examination showed that Miss Saunders 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.

As she lay helpless on the bedroom floor with those injuries, Charlton strangled her with his bare hands, then rang his father rather than an ambulance.

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 the mystery intruder.

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”.

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.

The relationship began when they met in town last summer, and he following day, Charlton moved in with her, and immediately began his campaign of control and bullying.

His barrister, Nicholas Lumley, QC, told the court: “We suggest that the death was unplanned, and no true premeditation exists here. This was not a targeted killing. Those are the only grains of mitigation we can find.”

Five jurors from the trial – three women and two men – returned to court to see Charlton sentenced.

Miss Saunders’ parents, brother and one of her children were also in court, weeping as their victim impact statements were read out.