Man detained for killing Travelodge receptionist who ‘smiled at him the wrong way’

Marta Elena Vento, 27, was beaten to death with a set of hair-clippers in December

Leonie Chao-Fong
Wednesday 02 June 2021 07:12
Man detained for ‘brutal’ killing of hotel receptionist

A man has been detained indefinitely for the "brutal" killing of a hotel receptionist after she "smiled" at him the wrong way.

Stephen Cole, 32, attacked Marta Elena Vento, a 27-year-old Spanish national who was working as a receptionist at the Travelodge in Bournemouth, Dorset, in December.

Cole, who suffers from paranoid schizophrenia, had pleaded guilty to manslaughter by reason of diminished responsibility.

On Tuesday, the court ordered him to be detained without limit under the Mental Health Act.

Judge Angela Morris, who presided the trial at Winchester Crown Court, said "irreversible failures" were made by those who did not spot the defendant’s deteriorating psychiatric state in the weeks beforehand.

The court heard how Cole, who was staying at the Travelodge, launched a prolonged attack on Ms Vento as she worked alone in the hotel reception.

Her body was found by the hotel manager as he opened up the premises on the morning of December 9.

Ms Vento was attacked as she worked alone in the hotel reception

A post-mortem examination indicated that the cause of death was multiple blunt force injuries.

Tom Wright, prosecuting, said "she had been brutally beaten" and suffered "injuries consistent with the repeated punching and kicking" captured by CCTV footage in the lobby.

He added the defendant had a pair of hair-clippers in his hand as he carried out the attack, in which Ms Vento suffered multiple head injuries.

Cole was arrested after walking into Bournemouth police station and telling the desk staff: "I have just killed someone in a hotel, I think she worked there."

He added: "I have had no sleep."

Mr Wright said a psychiatrist for the Crown concluded Cole was "actively psychotic" and suffering from "persecutory delusions and auditory hallucinations" at the time of the attack.

“At the time he was actively psychotic and this would amount to a partial defence of diminished responsibility,” he said.

He said Cole’s motive for the attack was that "it was a sudden impulse to the way she looked and smiled at him; he felt annoyed and she was looking down at him."

Cole had a previous conviction for assaulting his mother in 2018 and had been convicted of three indecent exposures in the summer of 2020 for which he was released from custody in October.

Stephen Cole, 32, had pleaded guilty to the manslaughter through diminished responsibility of Marta Elena Vento

Days before Ms Vento was killed, Cole had been thrown out of another hotel in Bournemouth, which was being paid for by his parents, for attacking two guests.

In the weeks before the incident, Cole had been checked on by an offender management team and had been described as "becoming agitated".

Robert Grey, defending, told the court that Cole had stopped taking his medication at the time of the attack because "it was unavailable for the defendant to get".

He said: "He knew he needed it but ran into difficulties getting it, he did try and get it but it was not easy for him. There's no doubt that he suffers from a very serious illness."

Sentencing Cole, Judge Morris described the attack as a "tragic and appalling incident".

She told the defendant: “How this young woman, who had all of her life ahead of her, came to be in your path on that fateful morning is a combination of circumstances and an irreversible failure by some to spot the signs of your psychiatric deterioration, despite you and your father trying to obtain the anti-psychotic medication you so desperately needed."

In a victim impact statement read to the court, Ms Vento's father, Luis Elena-Blas, said his family were suffering “infinite pain” and called for "every person responsible" for his daughter's death to be held to account.

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