Travelodge receptionist beaten to death for ‘smiling at man wrong way’

A man who "brutally beat" a hotel receptionist to death for "smiling" at him has been detained indefinitely.

Stephen Cole, 32, killed Spaniard Marta Elena Vento, 27, at a Travelodge hotel in Bournemouth, Dorset, in December.

Cole, who suffers from paranoid schizophrenia, was staying at the hotel when he attacked the woman as she worked alone.

During his trial on Tuesday, Winchester Crown Court heard how he was holding a pair of hair clippers during the prolonged assault, which caused multiple head injuries.

The post-mortem examination concluded she died from multiple blunt force injuries.

A hotel manager found Ms Vento's body as he prepared to start work on December 9.

After the bloody attack, which was captured on CCTV, Cole went to Bournemouth police station and confessed to his crime, saying: "I have just killed someone in a hotel. I think she worked there."

He added: "I have had no sleep."

Cole was then arrested and charged.

Just days before he killed Ms Vento, Cole was evicted from another hotel in the town for attacking two other guests.

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Weeks earlier, an assessment by an offender management team revealed he was "becoming agitated".

Cole had previously been convicted of attacking his mum in 2018 and of three counts of indecent exposure in the summer last year. He was released from prison in October.

Tom Wright, prosecuting, said Ms Vento had been "brutally beaten" and suffered "injuries consistent with the repeated punching and kicking".

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He went on: "At the time he was actively psychotic and this would amount to a partial defence of diminished responsibility."

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

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."

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Robert Grey, defending, told the court Cole had stopped taking his medications in the lead up to the killing because "it was unavailable for the defendant to get".

"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," he said.

Judge Angela Morris slammed "irreversible failures" by those who were monitoring Cole's mental state prior to Ms Vento's death.

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At a previous hearing, he had pleaded guilty to manslaughter by reason of diminished responsibility.

During sentencing on Tuesday, the court ordered Cole to be detained without limit under the Mental Health Act.

Judge Morris said the attack was 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."

Ms Vento's dad, Luis Elena-Blas, said his family were suffering from "infinite pain" and called for "every person responsible" for his daughter's death to be held to account.

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