A man who strangled his elderly uncle to death after burgling him with a teenage accomplice has been jailed for life.
Leighton Snook, 28, was handed a life sentence with a minimum term of 30 years at Ipswich Crown Court for murdering Donald Ralph, 83, at his bungalow in Aldham, Essex.
Snook’s 17-year-old accomplice, Tyler Love, was jailed for eight years for manslaughter and burglary.
The pair stole a Ruger self-loading 22-calibre rifle, a Browning shotgun and a Volvo car from Mr Ralph’s bungalow in Halstead Road on December 28 last year, the court heard.
Judge Martyn Levett said they had lied to police in claiming they did not know where the guns were, and he told the court that firearms “getting into the wrong hands” had “very serious results”, like the murder of MP Jo Cox by a man using a stolen gun in 2016.
Their deception, along with the seriousness of the offences, meant he also lifted the anonymity normally given to defendants aged under 18, so that Love could be named.
Speaking about the gun theft, Judge Levett said: “I don’t think it’s because you don’t know where they are, nor do I think you are scared of any retribution, but I think you want to protect the criminals whose firearms are in their possession.
“MP Jo Cox was murdered with a gun which had been stolen from someone who held a licence for it.
“The potential harm when firearms fall into the wrong hands must be taken very seriously.”
Post-mortem examinations of Mr Ralph found three fractures to his cheekbone and abrasions to his neck, throat and back from what Judge Levett described as a “brutal” attack.
He said: “Mr Ralph was a vulnerable old man and the death was in his own home and the burglary was planned and premeditated.
“This was a brutal way to kill another human being. He was an elderly man who lived on his own and who was obviously vulnerable, but in good health and had every prospect of living until he was 100 years old.”
Judge Levett told Snook, who is of no fixed address: “You grabbed hold of him, punched him in the face and strangled him to death.
“You dragged a 16-year-old boy into a world of crime. He was a young person whose mind was impressionable.”
Mr Ralph’s niece Tina Ralph alerted Essex Police after finding his body the following day, and said she was “shocked” to learn that a member of the family was behind the murder.
In a statement read to the court at the sentencing, Ms Ralph described her uncle as a “much-loved” and “very well respected member of the community” who loved fishing.
She said he had regularly helped her with practical tasks in her home since the death of her father 25 years ago, and he also supported her in caring for her mother, who died with dementia 10 days before the murder.
She added: “Learning that a member of the family was responsible for Don’s murder was a shock.
“The extended family all live locally and this has really had an impact on us all.
“I struggle to sleep and often wake up in the night. I can’t get the image of Don on the floor covered in blood with puffy eyes out of my head.
“I can’t face driving past his bungalow any more.
“For me it will never really be over – it’s an emotional scar I will carry for the rest of my life.”
Love, Braunstone, Leicester, said he would not have gone along with the burglary if he had known someone would die and apologised to the family in his statement.