Dead house-sitter 'a free spirit'

Thurrock Gazette: A 55-year-old woman found dead in a property where she was house-sitting has been hailed as a "free spirit" by her family. A 55-year-old woman found dead in a property where she was house-sitting has been hailed as a "free spirit" by her family.

The family of an artist found dead while house-sitting for friends at a luxury village property have paid tribute to "a free spirit who enjoyed her life".

Valerie Graves, 55, had significant head and facial injuries when she was discovered at the waterside house in Bosham, near Chichester, West Sussex, on Monday morning.

The mother of two had been house-sitting with three other members of her family over Christmas while the owners of the detached family home were abroad.

Speaking publicly for the first time about their loss, Ms Graves' family issued a statement saying she was "an eternal student who was always hungry for a new challenge".

No arrests have been made by Sussex Police. The death has shocked the quiet seaside community of Bosham, which featured in an episode of the ITV crime drama Midsomer Murders.

Relatives of Ms Graves said she had recently moved back to Sussex from Scotland to be closer to her family.

In the statement, issued through Sussex Police, they said: " Val was a much loved daughter, sister, mum and nan, who will be sorely missed by the whole family.

"Val was a free spirit who enjoyed her life and was a talented artist, about to embark on a new path involving ceramics.

"She was an eternal student who was always hungry for a new challenge. She had recently moved back to Sussex from Scotland to be closer to her family and we were lucky enough to spend a family Christmas together.

"This has been a complete shock to the family and we appeal to anyone who has any information, no matter how trivial, to contact Sussex Police."

Police have previously said that the investigation was following a number of lines of inquiry, including that Ms Graves - who lived in nearby Bracklesham Bay - had been killed by a stranger.

It has not been confirmed whether there were any signs of a break-in or burglary at the property, and searches were understood to have continued in the area today.

An ambulance was called to the property in Smuggler's Lane at 9.50am on Monday and Ms Graves, who had two grown-up children, was found dead inside.

The house where she was found dead is listed on the electoral register by a Malcolm, 66, and Caroline Chamberlain, 63, and a neighbour said they had twin girls.

In Scotland, Stuart Grange, a former neighbour of Ms Graves' before she moved back south, said she was a "good neighbour, very private person and a hard worker".

He told Sky News: "She had been here a long-time - well-regarded, well-liked. We are very much a small community here and this has caused a lot of shock and amazement.

"This is a small community, we support each other and she's been part of it for a long, long time. It's really, really appalling and really, really sad what has happened."

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