A HATFIELD man cleared of a local murder seven years ago has been convicted of a second killing and jailed for at least 27 years.

Richard Clare was convicted of murder yesterday at St Albans Crown Court by a jury unaware he had successfully argued self defence to another killing in the borough in 2003.

But this time they rejected Clare's defence, and convicted him of murdering his housemate Peter McConnell at the house they shared in Fern Dells, Hatfield on March 21 this year.

Clare, 38, who was sharing the former council house with two fellow drug users while he renovated it and arranged its purchase, sliced the 43-year-old's throat so deep he cut the voice box in half.

He paid Anthony Stillwell, his other housemate, a small sum of money to leave, before burying the victim in a metal box in the garden, and cleaning blood from the house.

Clare's partner Charlotte Whitcombe, whose previous relationship with the victim was at the root of the murder, was told he had simply left, and she could have the room.

Mr Stillwell, who told police after his arrest for shoplifting 18 days later, told the jury he had been asleep upstairs when Clare and Mr McConnell returned to the house after drinking and shopping together.

He testified: "Richard flung the door open and said 'I have killed Peter.'

"I hadn't heard anything - no raised voices, nothing.

"I didn't believe it. I thought it was some sort of elaborate joke.

"I remember getting off the bed and walking downstairs. There was a lot of blood on the wall, a bit of blood on the floor."

He described following a trail of blood into the kitchen and finding the body slumped on a metal tool box.

Mr Stillwell continued: "His feet were on the floor and he was sitting on a steel box.

" He was slouched forward and his eyes were closed.

"There was quite a lot of blood by the box. It had bubbles in it.

"I bent down and looked up at him . He was not breathing. There was a scarf around his neck and it was covered in blood."

Clare told the jury his victim - whose voice box he had severed - had attacked him with an axe and apologised to him before he died.

He testified: "I thought he was going to kill me. It was instinctive."

Jailing Clare for life with a minimum term of 27 years judge Stephen Gullick told him: "You literally cut the throat, severed his voice box in two and he bled to death in minutes."

"You were clearly determined his body should not be found and you extinguished all trace of him."

In November 2003 Clare killed Timothy Magee outside a block of flats in the Howlands area of Welwyn Garden City by striking him in the neck with a spoon.

In a trial hampered by the death of the key witness, Clare was cleared of murder and manslaughter after pleading self defence.