A COLLEGE failure was yesterday jailed for life for the ''merciless'' murder of a gifted Scots-born drama student who was strangled and sexually assaulted as she walked home from a night out.

Northampton Crown Court was told Ryan McEwen-King, whose parents live in Nemphlar, near Lanark, was an ''outgoing, self-confident and well-liked'' person who dreamed of a career in showbusiness.

Her killer, Raymond Ellis, 22, originally from Weston-super-Mare, admitted murdering Ryan as they walked home from a pub in Northampton in June last year.

Miss McEwen-King's father Robin, 55, said after the hearing: ''Nothing will ever bring Ryan back. Whatever happened today, we have still lost our daughter, and our sons and other daughter have lost a much-loved sister.''

The court heard that the music student, who was 4ft 10in tall and weighed just five stones, had spurned the advances of 5ft 10ins Ellis, but he overpowered her and sexually abused her as she lay dying.

Ellis, who had dropped out of a course at Nene College in Northampton, was trapped by DNA evidence found on Miss McEwen-King's body and his clothing, which together made it a one in 25 million chance that he was not the killer, the court heard.

However, in police interviews, Ellis ''lied and lied'' and maintained his innocence until days before his trial was due to begin.

Passing sentence, Mr Justice Morland told Ellis that Miss McEwen-King had been killed just before her 22nd birthday. ''She was described by those who knew her as a very nice and charming girl,'' he said.

''She was a tiny person. She trusted you to escort her home safely. When she struggled to fend off your sexual advances you overpowered her, you hit her and you strangled her. It was a merciless killing and as she died you sexually assaulted her.''

The court was packed with friends and course colleagues of Miss McEwen-King for the hour long hearing.

Her father said last night: ''We do not know anything about this man. We are thinking of his parents. That will be another mother and father who will have to live with the terrible consequences of what happened.

''We will always cherish our memories of Ryan. We still have demo tapes of her singing and we hope we can put them together to make a CD.''

Miss McEwen-King, the youngest of five children, was well-known in pubs and clubs in Northampton for her karaoke singing and friendly nature. Weeks after her murder, her family were told she had passed her graduation exams in music and drama with flying colours.

Among the tapes are recordings of her singing classical voice disciplines for her course and her renditions of some favourite songs. ''Our most cherished tape is a recording of Wind Beneath My Wings. It was the last tape she made before she died,'' her father said.

Outside court, retired Detective Superintendent David Armiger, who led the murder inquiry, said Ellis's guilty plea had spared Miss McEwen-King's family the ordeal of a trial. Her murder had shocked police officers and the people of Northampton, he said.

On the night before she died, Miss McEwen-King and Ellis were the only members of the usual group to turn up for the karaoke sessions at two local pubs and they spent most of the evening together. Various people recognised Ryan and the two were seen behaving ''affectionately'' towards each another.

They left the Frog and Fiddler pub in the town at about 11.30pm. Nearby residents heard screams coming from the racecourse park soon after. They ignored them as such noises were not unusual, the court was told.

Miss McEwen-King's body was discovered in bushes at 3pm the next day by a woman walking her dog. She was naked except for her jewellery, and all her clothes except for her pants had been removed from the scene. She had been struck about the head, strangled and sexually abused.

Mr William Coker QC, prosecuting, said police believed the defendant had taken away the clothing to make it look as if her body had been dumped on the racecourse and deflect attention away from himself.

He was arrested two days after the killing but said he had left Ms McEwen-King alive to walk home.

Mr James Hunt QC, defending, said the killing was an ''awful and tragic crime'' but asked that Ellis be given credit for his guilty plea.

''He is a young man of 22 with no previous convictions and no indications of any propensity for this sort of thing,'' he said. ''Whatever may have been said before, when presented with the reality he admitted it to us and he has subsequently admitted it to a doctor.

''It is plain that there was rather more friendliness on the night in question than there had been before. He spent the whole evening with Ryan and it seems plain that he misread the signals. When he made advances of a sexual nature, and they were rebuffed, he lost control of himself.''

Last night, Dr Martin Gaskell, the director of Nene University College, where Miss McEwen-King studied, said: ''Her tragic death continues to remain with us all. The college is relieved that the guilty plea by Raymond Ellis has spared her family and friends the rigours of a trial.

''We will be establishing a permanent memorial to Ryan and would like to thank all who have contributed to her memorial fund. Ryan was a popular and respected member of the college community whose death shook us all. She will be fondly remembered.''