A career criminal who killed an elderly brother and sister in a bungled burglary has been jailed for life with a minimum term of 32 years.
Danville Neil, 65, “dodged justice for nearly 30 years” after attacking Second World War veteran William Bryan, 71, and widow Anne Castle, 74, during a break-in at their east London home in August 1993.
Following a trial at the Old Bailey, Neil was found guilty of Mr Bryan’s murder and of Mrs Castle’s manslaughter.
Sentencing him on Friday, Mrs Justice Cheema-Grubb said: “You dodged justice for nearly 30 years, now justice has caught up with you.”
She later said: “This was a notorious and universally appalling crime, both because of your history and the doubly fatal consequences of what you did.”
The pensioners were beaten and restrained as their flat was ransacked in the search for valuables.
The judge told Neil his actions were “unscrupulous” and “lacking in mercy”, and the siblings died “as a result of your greed”.
She added: “You were a well-established and experienced career burglar by 1993.
“But you had it in you to offend in a way which was far more serious.”
Neil pulled two wedding rings and two diamond rings from Mrs Castle’s fingers, but failed to find some £4,000 in cash – some of which had been stashed in socks, the Old Bailey was told.
Mrs Castle suffered a heart attack and Mr Bryan went into cardiac arrest after being beaten and smothered during the night-time raid.
No one witnessed the attack, but screams were heard by neighbours, suggesting a “prolonged burglary and attack”, jurors heard.
Mrs Justice Cheema-Grubb told the court: “The suffering of one of them was compounded by knowing that the other had died or was dying, that is inescapable.
“They were left virtually opposite each other, it is not difficult to imagine, though no one would want to, the anguish they must have endured at the suffering of the other.”
Police were called to the address on Aug 23 1993 and found Mrs Castle’s body slumped in an armchair, with her brother lying on the floor.
Jurors were shown images of the scene, with cushions up-ended on the sofa, broken glass from a vase, a lampshade askew in the corner, a pair of glasses on the floor, and Mrs Castle’s handbag on the ground with the contents spilling out.
A hammer and a screwdriver were recovered from the crime scene.
The murders went unsolved for nearly 30 years until Neil’s DNA was found on the knot of a strap used to tie Mr Bryan’s hands.
The court heard Neil had a string of convictions for some 15 burglaries between 1973 and 1998.
In 1984, he carried out two home invasions in three months in which the occupants were physically assaulted.
A couple were beaten with an iron bar and the wife also smothered with a pillow as their three children slept in their home in Penge, south London.
The husband’s hands were tied up with a belt and Neil attempted to pull the wife’s ring from her finger.
Although no children were harmed, Neil told the couple: “Your kid’s dead, right we’ve killed your little girl, got it. Tell us where the money is or we’ll smash your heads in.”
Two months later, Neil assaulted another woman after breaking into her home in Norbury, south London, before making off with a music centre and £15 in cash.
He was jailed for the two violent burglaries and released on licence in August 1992 – a year before the double murders.
During his trial, Neil had accepted his DNA was found at the scene of the killings, but denied he had been there or knew the victims.
He claimed an innocent explanation for the forensic link was that he had sold Mr Bryan binoculars at a car boot sale and it was the strap that was used to bind him.
But Mrs Castle’s grandson remembered his great uncle was keen on gadgets and had two sets of binoculars that he would have bought new.
Jurors heard that the victims had lived together in a flat in Bethnal Green since Mr Bryan was invalided out of the Army in 1945, with Mrs Castle being widowed in 1987.
A statement from Mrs Castle’s granddaughter, read out to the court, described her as a “pillar of the community who was well loved and respected by everybody”.
It went on to say the pair “showed all the things which are good in people”.
Another family statement said “for almost 30 years a weight has been over our shoulders”.
Cheers and applause were heard in the public gallery as the sentence was given.