Murdered girlfriend had shirt stuffed into mouth

A 29-year-old man who suffocated his girlfriend by stuffing a shirt into her mouth after a "massive argument" was jailed for life today.

Rui Borges was told he must serve at least 17 years behind bars after being found guilty of the murder of Maria Coelho by a 10-2 majority.

Borges, originally from Portugal, had admitted manslaughter but claimed Ms Coelho provoked him by taunting him about his unhappy childhood.

He waited half an hour after the killing before calling 999 and later told police: "We had a massive argument. I lost the plot and I just attacked her."

The lifeless body of 37-year-old Ms Coelho was found in March on the floor of her bedroom in Stepney, east London with blood on her face, the Old Bailey heard.

Jonathan Laidlaw QC, prosecuting, said: "The post-mortem examination of the victim's body was to reveal that she had been beaten, overpowered and then she had had a shirt forced into her mouth until she was asphyxiated.

"She was therefore not killed by a single blow or during a brief loss of temper - she was killed in a far more controlled way and she died after a prolonged and sustained attack.

"This defendant must literally have held his girlfriend down, forcing the shirt into her mouth until her desperate struggle for life subsided and she died."

Borges later claimed that, on the day of the killing in March, Ms Coelho had made reference to "an aspect of his unhappy childhood", said Mr Laidlaw.

The court heard that he would become upset if anyone mentioned that he had "effectively been abandoned by his mother".

Borges met Ms Coelho, also from Portugal, after he moved to Britain in 2003 and found work at a Bernard Matthews factory in Great Yarmouth, Norfolk.

During their "volatile" relationship Borges was three times convicted of assaulting her and Judge Stephen Kramer said she must also have been left "terrified" on the two occasions last year when he smashed up their flat.

The judge added: "The attack on her in March this year was deliberate and must have been sustained.

"She fought back and tried to remove the gag from you forced into her mouth, scratching herself in that struggle.

"It was not an instant death. It must have been a painful one.

"You delayed phoning 999 for about half an hour by which time you must have known she was dead."