A BRUTAL murderer who strangled a 60-year-old woman after she disturbed him as he burgled her Hendon home must serve at least 18 years in prison, a judge has ruled.

Mikal Raven, formerly known as Brian James Sweeney, was convicted of killing Sylvia Wilson after he broke into her home in Hyde Crescent in June 1998.

After scaling a ladder stolen from a neighbouring garden, Raven broke in through a first floor window. While searching the bedrooms for cash and credit cards, he disturbed the pensioner and attacked her by punching her in the face.

He then put a pillow case over her head and strangled her over it using a baggage strap taken from a cupboard in her bedroom. He also bound her hands and sexually assaulted her.

Raven, now 36, of Sunnymeade Court, Kingsbury, was jailed for life at the Old Bailey on February 17, 1999. During the trial it emerged he had already served 21 months in a young offenders institute for stealing a woman’s bag at knife-point in 1991, followed by three years in prison in 1995 for six residential burglaries.

Now, after reviewing the case at the Royal Courts of Justice, in The Strand, Mr Justice Owen has ruled that 18 years is the minimum time Raven must serve behind bars.

The judge ruled that the seriousness of the offence, the vulnerability of the victim and the evidence of sexual assault prevented him from recommending Raven for early release.

Raven pleaded that the murder was not premeditated and he had no previous offences of violence recorded against him, except a conviction for robbery in 1991, when he was 19 years old.

Mr Justice Owen said: "As the murder was committed in June 1998, I am also obliged to take account of the guidelines set out by Lord Bingham CJ in February 1997.

"His practice was to take 14 years as the period actually to be served for the 'average', 'normal' or 'unexceptional' murder.

"Among the factors that he identified as likely to lead to a sentence more severe than the norm was 'evidence of sexual maltreatment before the killing' and 'killing for gain (in the course of burglary)'."

Neighbour Michael Stevens, 41, remembered Mrs Wilson as a "lovely" woman. "She used to speak to my father-in-law in the mornings," he said.

"She was a very nice woman, a lovely woman.

"I couldn't believe it when I heard what had happened. It is too terrible to contemplate what she must have gone through.

"That man deserves to serve his full sentence for attacking someone so vulnerable in such an awful way."

Raven will now serve at least 18 years, minus the eight months he has already served in custody.

Evidence submitted in the first trial showed that in the first half of 1998, the killer was an accomplished night-term residential burglar of serial proportions.

He admitted eight burglaries on the basis of stolen property found in his possession on his arrest, and his brother, who lived with him, told police that he was going out to burgle two or three times a week - and continued to do so after he killed Mrs Wilson.

Because he got very little in material terms from burglary on this scale, it is believed there was an "excitement" factor in his offending.

After Raven has served the minimum term of his sentence, the parole board has the power to direct his release. If released, he will remain on licence for the rest of his life and may be recalled to prison at any time if in breach of the terms of his parole.