Jury told of Joanna Yeates' struggle to survive

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The Independent Online

Joanna Yeates fought a desperate battle for life as she suffered 43 injuries at the hands of her neighbour, a court heard today.

Miss Yeates, 25, was said to have suffered a slow and painful death as she was strangled by "cold and calculated" killer Vincent Tabak.

Tabak kept his crime secret for more than six weeks before confessing to a prison chaplain, prosecutors claim.

Tabak, 33, was said to have used his height and build to overpower Miss Yeates's 5ft 4in frame at her flat in Clifton, Bristol.

She fought for her life for some time as Tabak pinned her to the floor by her wrists, Nigel Lickley QC told Bristol Crown Court.

"There was a violent struggle by Miss Yeates to survive," he said.

"He might have let go but he did not. He knew that Miss Yeates was in pain and struggling to breathe."

Of the catalogue of injuries, 12 were to her head and neck and two to her trunk.

There were a total of 21 wounds on her arms and four on her legs, Mr Lickley said.

Mr Lickley told the jury: "We suggest he did not panic or lose control. He was controlled and calculated."

Mr Lickley explained that a post-mortem examination carried out by Dr Russell Delaney found Miss Yeates died as result of compression to the neck.

"The overall pattern of injuries indicate an episode of manual compression of the neck that is known as strangulation," Mr Lickley told the jury.

"The injuries mean that Miss Yeates was alive when the injuries to her neck took place and death was not instantaneous.

"In other words it took some time and sufficient force was used to kill her."

Mr Lickley said other injuries to her face, side of her head and upper limbs show contact with a roughened surface while she was still alive.

"Quite apart from the fear an attack might cause, direct compression will be uncomfortable and, quite... painful," Mr Lickley added.

"Miss Yeates would have found it difficult to breathe and you would have expected her to resist and struggle."

Mr Lickley said the injuries to the front and the back of Miss Yeates's neck indicated two hands being used to kill her.

"There was movement, we suggest, and a struggle, a violent struggle by Miss Yeates to try and survive," the barrister said.

"Despite that Vincent Tabak continued to hold and squeeze her neck to kill her."

Tabak was "in control, more powerful and about a foot taller", Mr Lickley said.

"He knew, we suggest, she was in pain and struggling to breathe," he added.

Dutch engineer Tabak - who has admitted manslaughter but denies murder - left her corpse on a snowy verge with her jeans still fastened and her pink top partially pulled up over her head.

She was still wearing her bra but her right breast was exposed.

The court heard that blood stains on a wall where Miss Yeates's body was dumped suggested Tabak had tried to lift her over the wall into a neighbouring quarry.

Toxicology tests on Miss Yeates's body were consistent with her having drunk between one and a half and two and a half pints of cider.

Scientists were also able to confirm that she had not eaten the Tesco Finest pizza she bought on the night of her death.

After his arrest in January, Tabak disputed police evidence and told officers he had not known who Miss Yeates was, the court heard.

In one of a string of interviews with officers, he said: "I believe the DNA evidence is insecure and cannot be relied on."

He then told police "I had nothing special to do" on the night of Miss Yeates's death.

He said he had eaten a pizza as he waited to pick up his girlfriend, Tanja Morson, from a Christmas party, and confirmed police evidence that he texted Miss Morson while at Asda to say he was bored.

Mr Lickley, bringing the prosecution's opening to a close, told jurors it was for them to decide Tabak's state of mind.

Mr Lickley said Tabak had illustrated an "ability to cover his tracks".

The court had already heard how within minutes of "squeezing the life out" of Miss Yeates, Tabak sent his girlfriend a text message: "Miss you loads. It's boring here without you Vxx."

The court has also heard he went shopping in Asda with her body in his car boot less than two hours after the killing on December 17.

The case was adjourned until tomorrow when jurors will be taken both to Miss Yeates's former flat and the spot where her body was found in Failand, on the outskirts of the city.