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23 December 2014, 07:39
The family of a grandmother murdered as she house-sat for friends near Chichester have said Christmas is ``on hold'', while her killer still remains at large nearly one year on.
Relatives of artist Valerie Graves, 55, said it was hard to ``share the excitement'' of the festive season as the first anniversary of her murder approaches.
Ms Graves was found dead by her sister Jan on December 30 in a ground-floor bedroom. She had been bludgeoned with a claw hammer in the home in Smugglers Lane in Bosham, West Sussex.
She was murdered as she house-sat with her sister, mother Eileen and her sister's partner, Nigel Acres, while the owners holidayed abroad over Christmas.
Despite a £20,000 reward, the involvement of the National Crime Agency, a Crimewatch appeal and a limited DNA profile of a suspect, no-one has been charged with her killing.
In an effort to help bring about a breakthrough, Ms Graves' two children Tim Wood, 32, and Jemima Harrison, 35, spoke - along with Mr Acres - ahead of the first anniversary of her murder.
Asked how the last 12 months had been, Mr Wood replied: ``Terrible.
``It's hard to carry on knowing that someone is out there able to do it to someone else and knowing that they haven't been caught for what they have done.''
Appealing directly for information about the killer, he went on:
``Please come forward to give us that information that may lead to catching the person responsible.
``It would give some closure, knowing that they were off the streets, so that they couldn't do that to anyone else. I would hate anyone else to have to go through this.
``My daughter is only three so she's all excited (about Christmas) but it's hard to share the excitement.''
Mr Acres also said it was difficult to mark Christmas with such an emotional anniversary looming. In addition, Christmas Day would have been Ms Graves' birthday.
Speaking at Sussex Police's major crime branch headquarters in Brighton, Mr Acres said:
``We will spend Christmas together but Christmas is pretty much on hold for obvious reasons.
``I think we will go through the motions.''
Mr Acres said Ms Graves' murder has been deeply felt by her sister after the pair had started to see more of each other. Ms Graves had recently moved back to Sussex from Scotland to help care for her elderly mother in Bracklesham Bay.
Mr Acres added:
``(Jan's) devastated by the whole event.
``Valerie had moved down from Scotland to look after her mother so she had been living in the area for seven or eight months before last Christmas.
``Jan had got to know her sister again because they didn't see each other often.
``Unfortunately, she was the person who found her sister so that's an horrific mental image that she hasn't been able to get out of her mind.
``She's struggling, poor thing. It has completely devastated her. To catch the person who was responsible will bring some closure.
``It's not going to bring Valerie back and that's what's important. Until that happens, we can't see any way forward.''
Mr Acres recalled events on December 29 which led up to the discovery of Ms Graves' body the following morning at around 10am.
``I had been out to London that day and I got back in the evening.
``Jan had spent the day with her mother and her sister. It was another holiday so it was very calm. It was just a very pleasant evening.
``They had been watching television and then everyone drifted off to bed in the usual way. Nothing out of the ordinary, absolutely nothing.
``I came down in the morning for breakfast. Jan had already been down there in the kitchen and we noticed the bedroom door where Valerie had been sleeping was open.
``We didn't raise any alarm at that stage because Jan's mother had been ill prior to Christmas and we thought she may have spent the night in her mother's bedroom, just to look after her.
``I went off to the farm shop to get some provisions for breakfast. It wasn't until I came back and there was a paramedic that I personally was alerted to (Ms Graves' death).
``Jan had gone in to check on her sister and unfortunately found her in the position she did.''
Mr Wood said he received news of his mother's murder as he was running his daughter's bath.
He said: ``It was horrific. I had come in from work. I was running my daughter a bath and there was a knock on the door. My partner answered it and let the officer in and I got told my mother had passed away.''
He described her as an ``excellent mother'' and ``great grandmother'', while Ms Harrison added: ``She liked to mess around.
``She was very nice, kind and loving.''
She added that Christmas was a poignant time of year to mourn their mother but that her loss was felt keenly year-round.
Ms Harrison went on:
``There are lots of things throughout the year that we would have done as a family when Mum has not been there.
``It's really difficult this time of year but it's difficult throughout the whole year.''
A post-mortem examination revealed Ms Graves had suffered significant head and facial injuries. A 22-year-old man arrested over her murder was later freed without charge.
The death shocked the small community of Bosham, which featured in an episode of the ITV crime drama Midsomer Murders.
To reassure villagers, an increased police presence will be seen in the community over the anniversary period. Police are asking people to submit voluntary DNA samples to rule them out of their inquiries.
Mr Acres appealed for people to come forward to undergo the testing. He said:
``Police are asking for people to give voluntary DNA.
``They are setting up a centre to call in and we are asking people that, if they have got time, please do so. It would just help the police.''
Anyone with information is asked to call Sussex Police on 101, quoting Operation Ensign, or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.