A 17-YEAR-OLD boy has been sentenced to life with a minimum term of 16 years for the “entirely random” brutal murder of a teaching assistant as she strolled through woods in daylight.

Rocky Marciano Price lay in wait for a passing woman and struck when Lindsay Birbeck, 47, crossed his path in Accrington, Lancashire.

Moments earlier he had stalked another lone female walker who was so concerned about being followed she looked for something heavy to pick up and defend herself with before hurrying to safety.

Sentencing Price at Preston Crown Court, Mrs Justice Yip said: “There is no evidence of any sexual assault or other apparent motive. Why the defendant chose to kill Lindsay, only he knows.

“The evidence of the other woman demonstrates, beyond doubt, that Lindsay was not targeted for any reason, other than she was a lone woman. If it had not been her, it could have been someone else. This was the entirely random killing of a stranger.”

Keep-fit enthusiast Mrs Birbeck went for a quick walk in woods known as the Coppice before planning to cook tea at her home in Burnley Road for daughter, Sarah, 17, and Sarah’s boyfriend.

The alarm was raised when Mrs Birbeck, who also has a son Steven, did not return, which prompted a massive search by police and local people.

Five days after Mrs Birbeck’s disappearance on August 12 last year the defendant brazenly moved her body in a wheelie bin from the Coppice and along Burnley Road to the town’s cemetery, where he buried her.

Her naked body, wrapped in plastic bags, remained concealed in a wooded area at the back of the cemetery until it was discovered by a dog walker on August 24.

A post-mortem examination revealed she died from neck injuries with “severe compressive force”, apparently used either by stamping or kicking or kneeling on the front of her neck.

Such was the decomposition of Mrs Birbeck’s body that no evidence of a sexual assault could be found.

Price, of Whinney Hill Road, Accrington, came forward when police released a CCTV appeal asking for the public’s help in identifying the young man pulling the wheelie bin.

He claimed he was not involved in her death and that a mystery man had approached him in the area and offered a cash reward to dispose of a body.

On Wednesday a jury rejected Price’s account and unanimously found him guilty, exactly one year after Mrs Birbeck disappeared.

The judge said the defendant’s autism and learning difficulties did not excuse or explain his behaviour.

She said: “His actions after the killing clearly suggest he had the capacity to plan and reason.”

Price, who followed proceedings on a video-link from Wetherby Young Offender Institution, must serve the minimum period set before he can be considered for release by the parole board.

After the sentencing, Mrs Birbeck’s family said: “As a family we are grateful that justice has been served and that the defendant has been sentenced.

“No sentence will ever be long enough and we hope he spends the rest of his life in prison so no other family have to go through the trauma that we have for the last 12 months.

“We are all emotionally exhausted and feel completely and utterly numb.”

Detective Inspector Tim McDermott, who helped oversee the investigation, said: “Today is the culmination of over 12 months work with it being just beyond a year that Lindsay disappeared.

“No sentence of the court can ever bring Lindsay back or take away the sorrow of her loss, but I am pleased we have been able to get justice for her and those who cared for her.”