A man who raped and attempted to murder a pensioner in Chessington has died days before he was due to be sentenced.

Robert Richards, 22, was found hanged in his cell on Tuesday morning.

Paramedics were called to Wandsworth prison at 9am and took Richards to St George's Hospital in Tooting.

He could not be revived.

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HMP Wandsworth

Richards had been convicted in June of raping and attempting to kill a woman in her 70s in Chessington in October last year.

He climbed in her window as she was lying in bed and whispered "I like you. I will kill you," before pulling her to the floor and raping her.

The attack was so vicious it left her with a broken jaw, a bleed on the brain, a fracture below the eye, a broken hip, several fractured vertebrae and 10 broken ribs.

He was due to be sentenced on Monday.

The news of Richards’ death was posted on Facebook by family members, according to friends, but was then deleted.

His half brother Matthew Cook, 21, defended his sibling against the stream of online abuse directed at him.

Mr Cook, who shared a father with Richards, said: “He was not as bad as people made him out to be.

“He was a loving man, a caring man who loved his kid and his brothers. He was the sort of person who if he saw you with too much shopping, he would help you carry it.

“I’m not saying what he did wasn’t wrong. It was very, very bad. I don’t know what was going through his head.”

Mr Cook said Richards had an “awful” upbringing and was left to his own devices as a child growing up.

But he said he never anticipated him committing such a crime.

He said: “Robert was Robert. He didn’t go into details about how he felt.

“I saw him about two weeks before it all happened. He was just Robert. I didn’t see anything different in him.”

On Richards’ death, Mr Cook said: “He’s got a boy who’s now got no father. I know he would be about 20 or 30 years old by the time Robert got out, but he would still have a father. Now Robert’s gone, his son has no father.”

Mr Cook said he had received death threats following his half brother’s arrest in October, but said: “Nobody can scare me. I don’t care.

"The people who say things to me don’t know Robert.

"I love him, and he'll always be a brother to me."

A neighbour of the victim said there had been a mixed reaction to the news.

They said: “It's been quite, ‘May he rot in hell,' and that sort of thing.

"I've also had a reaction from people that knew his mother. They're saying, 'You should think of her and what she's going through.”

A prison service spokesman said: "HMP Wandsworth prisoner Robert Richards was found unresponsive in his cell on the morning of Tuesday, July 29.

"Staff attempted to resuscitate him and paramedics were called but he was pronounced dead in hospital at 9.50pm the same day.

"As with all deaths in custody, the Independent Prisons and Probation Ombudsman will conduct an investigation."

Neighbours of the victim said police visited her yesterday morning to inform her she no longer needed to attend court to see him sentenced.

Richards' is the second death of a Wandsworth prisoner in less than two months.

On June 12, Mathan Vadivelalagan, 20, of Mitcham, was found unresponsive in his cell by a member of staff.

Anyone affected by issues can gain confidential advice and support by calling the Samaritans on 08457 909090 by emailing jo@samaritans.org or by visiting the website at samaritans.org