23/03/2012 12:06 GMT

Francis Willis Jailed After Murdering His Father, 88, With A Hammer

A son who bludgeoned his father to death and then buried his dismembered body beneath a patio has been jailed for life.

Francis Willis shattered his elderly father's skull with blows from a ball peen hammer after an argument about cigarettes.

He then used a chainsaw to hack apart the 88-year-old's corpse before burying it at midnight in a shallow grave.

Willis told police investigating the pensioner's disappearance "you won't have to look there" when they searched the rear garden of the home they shared in the Carr Hill area of Leam Lane, Gateshead, where a patio had been built.

His father, Frank Willis, was buried in four blue plastic bags beneath the newly-laid flagstones.

Jailing Francis Willis, 62, for 17 years, Mr Justice Clarke said the way he'd treated the body had been "an insult to the dead".

Willis, who admitted murder, was expressionless as he was led from the dock at Newcastle Crown Court.

Judge Clarke told Willis: "Exactly what made you act the way you did is unclear.

"I take account of what you did to your father, which, while it was an insult to the dead, could not have added to his suffering when he was alive.

"The sentence of the court is life imprisonment."

Police began investigating after Mr Willis Snr disappeared in August last year.

Neighbours had been used to seeing the pensioner at his front doorstep, greeting passers-by.

Willis, who had lived with his father since his brother's death five years earlier, claimed the old man had been on holiday to Great Yarmouth and had then gone on to visit friends in Doncaster, South Yorkshire.

He told friends: "It will do him the world of good to get away. I'm going to do the garden."

Mark Giuliani, prosecuting, told the court that in fact Mr Willis Snr had been battered to death in an attack of horrific ferocity.

The men had argued about the financial contribution that Willis, who had debt problems, was making to the house and about him smoking his father's cigarettes, as he could not afford his own.

When his father said "You're f****** useless" and insulted his wife, Willis struck the pensioner "at least six and probably more than 10 times" to the left side of his head, the force of the blows shattering his skull and killing him almost instantly.

Forensic investigators found blood spattered on the walls, ceiling and furniture of Mr Willis Snr's bedroom, where was killed.

Willis then bought paint, a knife, a shovel, weed control fabric, builder's aggregate and a chainsaw from a hardware store in an "ill-conceived and morbid attempt" to conceal his crime, enlisting the help of a neighbour to dig a 7ft by 7ft hole in the back garden for his father's body.

"What he did was place his father's dismembered body in that hole, wrapped in bags, and then put a patio up to disguise what he had done," Mr Giuliani said.

"He did this under the cover of darkness, waiting until midnight when the all of the overlooking windows had their curtains drawn."

Investigators found blood and fatty tissue covering the teeth of the chainsaw and on the hammer, which had been hidden in the garden shed.

They found a pair of bloodstained slippers and a walking stick in the garden.

In the days following the murder, Willis withdraw more than £2,500 from his father's bank accounts.

He told police: "I could see that his skull was broken. I hit him once or twice.

"He was bleeding and making a gurgling sound.

"I knew I had killed him."

Mitigating, Jamie Hill said Willis had lashed out in anger, then panicked when he realised what he had done.

He said the crime was not motivated by money.

Willis, who has a previous conviction for arson, has an IQ of just 70, the court heard.

The pensioner's family was too upset to comment after the sentencing.

Senior investigating officer Detective Chief Inspector Andy Potts said: "My thoughts have been with Mr Willis Senior's family throughout this investigation. This has been a difficult ordeal and has had a devastating impact on them.

"This was a very distressing case for the family, who continue to come to terms with what has happened.

"I would like to thank them for their support during the investigation which has helped to achieve this conviction. My sympathies continue to rest with the family at this difficult time."