Published: 00:00, 29 September 2016
A burglar must serve at least 28 years behind bars for the vicious murder of elderly businessman Roy Blackman at his Biddenden home.
Mechanic Mark Love, 38, was also sentenced to 12 years - to run concurrently - for his part in a violent burglary a month before at the home of champion clay pigeon marksman George Digweed.
A jury of seven men and five women delivered guilty verdicts this morning after three days of deliberations following the three-week trial at Maidstone Crown Court.
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Love appeared in the dock wearing a grey blazer, white shirt and dark blue jumper, flanked by two security guards.
He showed no emotion when the guilty verdicts were read out, or when the sentence was handed down.
VIDEO: CCTV shows Mark Love and William Smith on a shopping spree not long after the killing
As he was taken away, Mr Blackman's family members quietly hugged each other as they left the court.
Mr Blackman, a garage owner and bird breeder, was brutally beaten to death before burglars fled with a safe containing between £100,000 and £250,000.
Warning: distressing images below
The killing was carried out by the same gang that burgled Mr Digweed’s home in Northiam, Rye.
Mr Blackman was punched, kicked, stamped on and stripped naked at his chalet bungalow in Headcorn Road.
Sentencing Love to life imprisonment, Judge Philip Statman described how the murderer and his accomplices subjected Mr Blackman to a “brutal” attack, and outlined the terror experienced by Mr and Mrs Digweed as a taser was pointed at his neck and she was bound with duct tape.
He said: "The impact has been considerable upon members of the Blackman family and on Mr and Mrs Digweed as well.
"Everyone should be entitled to live in peace in their home without experiencing what Mrs Digweed described as something effectively like a scene of a horror movie.
"The deceased was bludgeoned and kicked to death in what was a sustained and ferocious attack, kicking with a shod foot. It led to 62 sites of injury."
The judge also praised Mr Blackman and his family. He said: "Mr Blackman was well known in his community.
"In my judgment he can properly be described as a good community man, he was old school in his attitudes and he regarded the Englishman's home as being his castle.
"Mr Blackman showed great bravery and courage and his family will be proud of the life he led and his contribution to the community. He will not be forgotten.
"Members of the Blackman family have been coming to court from day one. They have filled the public gallery every single day. They have behaved with consummate dignity."
The judge acknowledged that Love had children and had been suffering from depression following the breakup of his marriage.
But he said the attacks were “violent” and that he should have known that serious harm would be caused to Mr Blackman based on what had happened at the Digweeds' property.
In a statement, Mr Blackman's family said: "We, Roy's family, have attended the court case throughout and have heard all of the evidence put before the jury.
"The horror of what Mark Love and others did to our dad that night, together with the 'ransacking' of his house, will haunt us forever and is truly unforgivable.
"Justice has been served today but it will not bring him back, we have lost our dad, our role model and our children have lost their beloved grandad. His murder has also deeply affected his friends and the wider community.
"The horror of what Mark Love and others did to our dad that night, together with the 'ransacking' of his house, will haunt us forever and is truly unforgivable" - Mr Blackman's family
"Our dad was an honest and hard-working man and the world is a poorer place for his passing.
"We thank everyone who has been involved in the case, the police, the CPS and the prosecution team; they have worked tirelessly to bring Mark Love to justice. His prison sentence will protect other families from the pain and loss that we have suffered."
During the trial, prosecutor Simon Taylor said another man, William Smith - who was shot dead by police - was also involved in the offences.
“It may well have been, had he been alive, William Smith would have been in the dock alongside Mr Love,” he said.
“Mark Love was involved in both of them. Serious violence was used against the occupants.
“There is one key difference between the allegations. Tragically, violence in the second offence led to the death of the occupant - Roy Blackman, a 73-year-old widower beaten to death in his own home.
“Mercifully, the victims of the earlier burglary didn’t suffer such an extreme fate, although significant injuries were sustained by the male occupant.”
Mr Taylor said DNA from both Love, of Frittenden Road, Staplehurst, and Smith, who was 36, was found at the scene of both crimes.
Mr Blackman was killed at Heartsay Bungalow during the night of March 20.
It was believed he was attacked after interrupting the burglars. His home was “comprehensively ransacked” as they searched for valuables.
“Both Mr Love and Mr Smith left deposits of their DNA at the scene of the crime,” said Mr Taylor. “It was in circumstances which were otherwise inexplicable.”
Love’s DNA was found on a glove and on a tap in the upstairs bathroom. Smith’s DNA was on a bottle of cleaning fluid in the lounge.
The burglars had run a bath to wash items in an attempt to destroy scientific evidence.
Smith, from Golford, near Cranbrook, and Love soon afterwards went on a shopping spree at designer outlet McArthurGlen in Ashford.
After Love’s arrest the interior of a white Astra van associated with him at a lock-up at Porkpie Farm in Frittenden was sodden with dirty water as if it had been submerged in a lake.
Mr Digweed, 52, and his wife Kate told of their terror when four masked men smashed their way through patio doors on February 21.
He had been wearing only a towel after bathing and was left “stark naked” as he was struck on the head with one of his guns.
The gang made off with £12,000 in cash, two valuable shotguns, their Toyota Hilux truck and other items.
Mrs Digweed said it had been “like a SWAT team” entering the house.
Jurors were taken on a view of both crime scenes.
Love, 38, denied murder and aggravated burglary. He claimed in evidence he could not remember what was doing in the hours leading up to the murder because it was “just an ordinary day”.
He maintained he had never been to Mr Blackman’s home, despite his DNA being found there.
After the sentencing, Mr Digweed said: "Kate and I have been through a horrific ordeal which has changed our lives forever.
"We are slowly rebuilding our confidence in trusting people and our surroundings. We have the opportunity of rebuilding our lives, a privilege that cannot unfortunately be afforded to Roy Blackman, whose family has shown immense courage throughout this whole ordeal.
"We would like to thank Kent and Sussex Police for their support and especially Detective Sergeant Shelly Chantler, from Kent police, who has helped greatly in getting us through this difficult period."
"They attacked the vulnerable 73 year-old, eventually beating him to death" - DI Lee Whitehead
Speaking outside the court, DS Chantler welcomed the verdict. She said: "We continue with this investigation. We are confident there are outstanding offenders in relation to these offences.
"Our crime scene officers have done a good job in the fact they have linked two offenders to the scene forensically. We continue with the investigation and those offenders will be brought to justice.
DS Chantler added: "Mr Blackman's home was completely ransacked from both upstairs and downstairs. Furniture had been upturned and all his property had been damaged and strewn about the house."
Police are still searching for the safe stolen from Mr Blackman's home and the money taken from the earlier burglary of Mr and Mrs Digweed's property.
Detective Inspector Lee Whitehead from the Kent and Essex Serious Crime Directorate said: "In relation to the murder it is my belief that the offenders went to this house with the intention of carrying out another burglary, but were confronted by Mr Blackman who was attempting to protect his property.
"Rather than taking the opportunity to leave, they attacked the vulnerable 73 year-old, eventually beating him to death.
"Once dead, the offenders made efforts to destroy forensic evidence that may have tied them to their crime.
"They cut the clothing from Mr Blackman's body and placed it into water and also used cleaning products to wash blood from the walls. Despite their actions we were able to secure forensic evidence from a number of areas.
"This was a cowardly and completely unnecessary attack. Although Mark Love's conviction and imprisonment will protect the public it will not bring Mr Blackman back.
"My thoughts and best wishes go to Mr Blackman's family, who have supported our investigation and acted with great dignity throughout the trial process.
"In relation to the attack in Northiam, I hope this conviction will go some way in allowing the victims to move on with their lives after such a traumatic incident. They also have my thanks for their support and patience throughout this inquiry.
"Mark Love was not alone in committing these offences and I would like to reassure members of the public that our investigation will continue to identify those who are yet to face justice."
Chief Crown Prosecutor for the south east, Jaswant Narwal, said: "It was clear from the evidence that Love was part of a group that carefully planned both burglaries well in advance, identifying properties which they knew were likely to contain significant quantities of cash.
"One was a terrifying ordeal for a couple at their home, while the other led to the tragic death of a quiet and private man who was the victim of a violent and brutal attack.
"The level of violence was truly appalling but today Mark Love has been brought to justice for his crimes."