Judge slams the greed of recluse killer as she gives him 31 years

A depraved killer who strangled a wealthy recluse so he could take his girlfriend on a £13,000 spending spree with her bank card has been jailed for 31 years.

Xyaire Howard, 23, and lover Chelsea Grant, 28, had robbed Susan Hawkey, 71, in the street and her own home.

But she had previously cancelled her bank card when they had taken it.

Car valeter Howard knew she Ms Hawkey had thousands of pounds in her account and decided to make sure she would not be able to put a stop on her card again.

He broke into the house and slashed open Ms Hawkey’s top to expose her breasts and pulled down her underwear.

Ms Hawkey was tied up with his shoe laces and blindfolded with tape as he used ‘degradation and terror’ to forced her to reveal her PIN number.

Susan Hawkey

A used condom found nearby bore traces of his semen and the DNA of both Ms Hawkey and Grant.

He then strangled to death with another shoelace and left her body to rot under duvet on her living room floor as the couple spent the next three weeks emptying £13,000 from her bank account.

Howard denied but was convicted of murder while Grant was cleared of the charge by an Old Bailey jury.

She claimed she had not been at the home when her boyfriend killed Ms Hawkey and she did not know if she was dead.

Grant claimed her DNA was on the condom because they had sex regularly and her boyfriend never showered.

It was suggested during the trial that cannabis addict Howard may have had sex with Ms Hawkey before he strangled her to death.

The couple could not bear to look at eachother as sentence was passed.

Grant became pregnant with Howard’s child during the time they were preying on Mrs Hawkey and they both have a child from previous relationships.

She gave birth to a baby boy while in custody in May.

Grant denied but was convicted of three counts of robbery while Howard denied and was convicted of one charge of robbery.

He admitted a second count of robbery and was cleared of a third.

They both admitted two counts of fraud.

They were also convicted of one count of attempted robbery.

Howard was jailed for 31 years while Grant was jailed for 15 years for robbery and fraud.

In early hearings the couple had waved at each other over the video link and Howard had asked how Grant’s pregnancy was going but they blamed each other for the murder at trial.

Judge Judy Khan, KC, said: ‘Once you knew the balance of Ms Hawkey’s account you both became fixated on getting that money. Your greed motivated your offences.

‘You Howard, terrorised her into giving up her PIN code. It was a calculated and callous cause of action- a killing motivated entirely by your greed, Xyaire Howard.

‘You subjected Ms Hawkey to significant humiliation, degradation and deliberate infliction of terror in the hope she would give you the PIN of her bank card.

‘Knowing her to be vulnerable you targeted her over a period of time.

‘You were monitoring the smell of her decomposing body because you were worried about the authorities finding out about her death.

‘Once obtained you both set about using the card. Grant, you were not party to the killing but you became aware she had been killed and you did nothing to report it.

‘Instead you continued your joint plan to exploit Ms Hawkey’s card.

‘Neither of you showed any concern about the circumstances in which you had obtained that card nor showed any reluctance to continue to use it.’

She told Grant: ‘I’m entirely satisfied that your only regret is that you were caught.’

Ms Hawkey’s only surviving relatives are cousins and one said in an impact statement: ‘Susan was a very kind, generous, smart and hard working person

‘After losing both her parents and the job she loved she led a reclusive life.’

Her family had suggested she move away from run down Neasden in northwest London but she wanted to stay in the area she had grown up in and the house she had always lived in.

The cousin said her family cannot bear to imagine what her final moments were like.

‘She must have felt terrified and helpless, all for the greed and selfishness of Howard and Grant,’ the cousins said.

‘We will never know exactly what happened to Susan, making our nightmares even worse.’

The cousin said the rest of the family ‘are haunted every single day and a shadow will remain over their lives.’

Jurors heard Ms Hawkey was a retired bank worker who was just 5ft 1½ inches tall and of very slight build.

She did not have children and she struggled to cope after the loss of both of her parents and a partner.

Ms Hawkey lived alone and was often seen shuffling to the shops near her home in Aylesbury Road, Neasden, in her red duffle coat and Ugg boots, often pulling her shopping trolley behind her.

She had very little contact with relatives and did not own a mobile phone.

Ms Hawkey refused to take callers to her home but her neighbours thought she was a ‘lovely person.’

The pensioner was a hoarder and her home was choked with rubbish – but she spent hardly anything and her pension and life assurance payments had mounted up until she had £16,000 in her bank account.

Howard and Grant were both from St Vincent in the Caribbean and had sex on the first night they met in the UK through relatives.

Their relationship was a tempestuous one – they argued frequently but Grant said Howard wanted sex at least twice a day.

Grant had wanted to join the Royal Navy but was too overweight and unfit.

She also had a previous conviction in the Caribbean after she was wrongly sent a package and beat up the rightful owner when she came to collect it.

A magistrate then told her: ‘Take my advice, I am older than you. Look at your attitude.’

She also has previous convictions for fraud after taking photographs of bank cards in bars.

The couple had been living in various addresses and were often thrown out for not paying the rent before they moved into a flat at Pit House, in Press Road in Neasden, two minutes away from Ms Hawkey.

After seeing her in the street on her way to the local convenience store they realised she would be ‘an ideal victim.’

Grant first mugged her on July 27 last year, wrenching her bag from her shoulder.

A few weeks later on 22 August the couple knocked her to the ground near her home.

On both occasions Ms Hawkey’s bank card was taken and Howard was able find out her balance from documents in her bag because after the second mugging he bragged to a contact on Instagram: ‘Yo I copped a card bro. 16k is on this ting.’

Now armed with her house keys, the couple decided to rob her again the very next day at Ms Hawkey’s home and pinned her to a chair as they grabbed cash.

Before the card was cancelled again they managed to buy a few items, but only of low value.

The pair decided that once she had replaced that card they would clean out the bank account – but to do that they would have to force the victim to give them the PIN number.

On 6 September the couple were seen on CCTV walking to and from Ms Hawkey’s house and they burst in again the following morning.

Prosecutor Annabel Darlow, KC, said: ‘After the defendants had obtained both her debit card and her PIN, they went on a spending spree, spending thousands of pounds on luxury goods for themselves, including perfume, designer goods, a new television, portable speakers, telephones and accessories, clothing, shoes, sunglasses, watches and handbags.

‘Much of the spending was at the Westfield Shopping Centre in Shepherds Bush, but they also frequented shops and businesses in Wembley.’

In all the couple made 146 different transactions with the card.

By 19 September Grant was began making Google searches on her phone for ‘decomposition scent’, ‘how long does a dead body smell,’ and ‘How do neighbours smell dead bodies through entire walls from outside and in other houses? and ‘Is a dead body a very strong smell’.

She said some of these searches were made by Howard.

Three days later Howard searched for safety overalls, Hazmat overalls and ‘full protective respirator masks,’ as he planned to dispose of the body probably by dismembering it.

But the body was found on September 26 when a concerned neighbour noticed she had not put her bins out and called the police.

Ms Hawkey was found lying on her sofa underneath a duvet.

She had been bound, blindfolded with tape and still had a shoelace around her neck.

‘All of her lower clothing, that is her trousers and underwear had been removed – all she was wearing was a top and that top had been cut down the front,’ said Ms Darlow.

‘An item of clothing had been placed over her head and her body was under a duvet that was found over her corpse.

‘A used condom was found which contained Mr Howard’s semen and cellular material from Ms Grant – and that was found in the same room as her body together with an opened condom wrapper which bore Mr Howard’s fingerprints.’

On 28 September police went to a branch of McDonald’s in Wembley, where the card had been repeatedly used to try and recover CCTV of the pair.

As the officers left they were astonished to see both defendants nonchalantly waiting for a bus outside and arrested them both.

When Grant was searched she still had Ms Hawkey’s bank card and £1,600 of her cash.

At her home they found a laptop computer she had stolen from a midwife the care home where she was working.

Grant claimed she had never actually been into Ms Hawkey’s home. Howard admitted tying her up with tape but claimed he left her alive and well.

His barrister suggested flies settling on the corpse may have transferred Ms Hawkey’s DNA to the condom.

Grant and Howard, of Press Road, Neasden, denied murder.

Grant denied three counts of robbery while Howard denied two and admitted one.

They both admitted two counts of fraud.