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London - A handyman accused of killing an 85-year-old widow had been friends with her for years, neighbours said on Monday.

Paul Prause, 65, told police he had found the body of Rose Coleman at her £400 000 (about R6.8 million) bungalow. But he appeared before Barkingside magistrates in east London on Monday charged with the murder of the great-grandmother.

During a two-minute hearing he spoke only to confirm his personal details and was remanded in custody to appear at the Old Bailey on Wednesday.

A post-mortem examination found last week that Mrs Coleman, a former seamstress, was killed by blows to the head and neck last Sunday.

Neighbours said Prause had done odd jobs for Mrs Coleman for many years and they lived not far from each other in Romford, east London.

One said: "Rose treated him as more than a friend. She was always giving him jobs, she was kind to him."

David Jackson, 78, who lives next door to Prause, said: "I’ve known Paul for 20 years and I can only speak well of him. I’ve never heard a bad word about him. He was an odd job man, he’d been doing the painting work a long time.

"The police came on Friday at about 9am with forensics, the works. They really gave the house a good going-over. I was outside working when they took him away, handcuffed."