Killer handed life term for strangling woman

KILLER: Andrew Ratcliffe, who will serve a minimum of 23 years for the murder of Mary Roberts.
KILLER: Andrew Ratcliffe, who will serve a minimum of 23 years for the murder of Mary Roberts.

A man has been jailed for life for murdering a mother-of-five from Long Melford.

Andrew Ratcliffe, 56, had denied killing Mary Roberts, formerly of Hill Close, but was found guilty by a jury at Ipswich Crown Court on Tuesday.

Sentencing Ratcliffe yesterday, Judge John Devaux said imposing a life sentence was the only option.

Judge Devaux told Ratcliffe, of Petch Close, Bury St Edmunds, that he would have to serve a minimum term of 23 years, taking into account all the circumstances of the case.

The body of Mrs Roberts, 50, was found in a car park behind St Edmunds Tavern in Risbygate Street, Bury St Edmunds, on the morning of March 27. She had been strangled.

Forensic tests revealed traces of Ratcliffe’s DNA on Mrs Roberts’ body and clothing and her blood on his fingernails.

When Ratcliffe was searched, police found a pair of Mrs Roberts’ knickers in his pocket, together with a ring that she was known to always wear.

Andrew Jackson, prosecuting, claimed that Ratcliffe had become “sexually obsessed” with Mrs Roberts and, while they were both staying at the flat of a mutual friend, had repeatedly bought her alcohol and chocolates.

He told the court that Ratcliffe had strangled Mrs Roberts with enough force to break the bones in her throat between midnight and 3.25am, before calmly smoking a cigarette.

The court heard that Mrs Roberts had separated from her husband Nigel in December, due to her on-going problems with alcohol. The pair had four sons – John, Jimmy, Luke and Carl – and a daughter Kelly.

Giving evidence, Ratcliffe denied being sexually interested in Mrs Roberts, although he said they had kissed on two occasions and he liked her.

Speaking after the trial, Detective Inspector Kevin Hayward said: “Mary Roberts was a vulnerable woman who sadly died a horrendous death. We hope that the verdict will go some way to provide some closure for her family and friends.”