AN alcoholic drifter who killed the widow who befriended him in hospital was yesterday jailed for five years.

William Kilgallon battered 43-year-old Janet Frost around the head with his hands after staying at her home in Meadowfield, on the outskirts of Durham City.

Newcastle Crown Court was told the injuries left Mrs Frost almost unrecognisable.

Her husband Michael had committed suicide a few months earlier and it was while she was attending Durham County Hospital for treatment for depression that she met Kilgallon.

Kilgallon, 38, who has spent most of his life in hostels and temporary accommodation, was an outpatient on one of the hospital's detoxification programmes when he met the mother-of-two.

The court was told that the pair had a stormy relationship. Kilgallon told police there had been an argument and he had gone berserk and slapped her around the head.

Kilgallon yesterday pleaded guilty to manslaughter.

Mrs Frost had not died directly from the head injuries, but from choking on her own vomit.

Paul Batty, prosecuting, said: "The death of Mrs Frost's husband Michael in June 1999 affected her very seriously and she was admitted to hospital where she became friendly with the accused.

''After her discharge she began to visit him at a hostel and while Mrs Foster was very fond of him, it is equally clear that she became terrified of his temper and was the victim of violence in the week prior to her death."

Patrick Cosgrove, defending, said: "Had she not been sick or had she not vomited there's nothing to say she would not have recovered from her injuries.''

Mr Justice Nelson told Kilgallon: ''I recognise you were deeply upset at her death but the offence you committed was terrible and without doubt led to her death.

''In a drunken rage you went berserk, as you later said yourself. Her face became a mask of bruises from ear to ear.

''I accept you had no intention of killing her but you caused her death by your savage assault on her.''

Mrs Frost's two daughters held hands in court as the judge passed sentence.

They were too upset to comment after the case.