A 32-year-old man suffering from paranoid schizophrenia has been detained indefinitely after he “brutally” beat a hotel receptionist to death with a set of hair-clippers after she “smiled” at him the wrong way.
Stephen Cole pleaded guilty to the manslaughter through diminished responsibility of Marta Elena Vento, a 27-year-old Spanish national who was working as a receptionist at the Travelodge in Bournemouth, Dorset.
Judge Angela Morris, at Winchester Crown Court, ordered the defendant to be detained without limit under the Mental Health Act and highlighted the “irreversible failures” made by those who did not spot his deteriorating psychiatric state in the weeks beforehand.
Tom Wright, prosecuting, said Ms Vento’s body was found by the hotel manager as he opened up the premises on the morning of December 9 2020.
He added that 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 detained when he walked into Bournemouth police station and told 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 Cole had a previous conviction for assaulting his mother in 2018 and he was convicted of three indecent exposures in the summer of 2020 for which he was released from custody in October.
The prosecutor said Cole had been living at the Travelodge, with his bill being paid by his parents, after he was thrown out of another hotel for attacking two guests just a few days before he killed Ms Vento.
Mr Wright said Cole was suffering from “persecutory delusions and auditory hallucinations” and added: “At the time he was actively psychotic and this would amount to a partial defence of diminished responsibility.”
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.”
He added that Cole also said the act was a way of alerting the emergency services so “he would get the treatment he needed”.
Mr Wright said Cole had been checked on by an offender management team in the weeks before the incident and had been described as “becoming agitated”.
Cole had also said he was convinced he was being watched by the red light on a smoke alarm in his room and claimed people had been knocking on the windows of his fourth-floor room.
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”.
Sentencing Cole, Judge Morris told him: “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, called for “every person responsible” for his daughter’s death to be held to account, including the hotel management and those responsible for Cole’s healthcare.
He said his wife, Rosa, and son, Luis, are suffering the “infinite pain of the loss of Marta”.
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