Killer Vincent Tabak misread sociable Jo Yeates’ intentions and tried to kiss her on the lips before he strangled her when she screamed, his lawyer told a court today.
Dutch engineer Tabak, 33, claimed Jo beckoned him into her flat where she offered him a drink but he ”panicked” after ”misreading” the situation and tried to kiss her, a jury heard.
William Clegg QC, opening the defence case at Bristol Crown Court yesterday, said the killing was ”pure chance” and Jo died around 20 seconds after Tabak moved to silence her.
Jo’s mum Teresa, 58, dad David, 63, brother Chris and boyfriend Greg Reardon, 28, listened as he told how Tabak put one hand on her mouth to stifle her piercing cries and the other on her throat.
Mr Clegg told the court: ”It was pure chance that Vincent and Joanna had met.
”If Joanna Yeates had stayed for one more drink at the Ram pub she would be alive today.
”If Vincent Tabak had left 30 minutes earlier to go to Asda, as was his intention, he would not be standing in the dock now.
”But tragically Joanna did not stay for one last drink and went home.”
Mr Clegg told the court that Jo would have got home just after 8.30pm – around the time Vincent Tabak was planning to take a trip to Asda.
He claimed Jo had wandered into her kitchen where her blind was up and saw Tabak walk past on his way to his car.
Mr Clegg said texts sent to three men on the night she died showed Jo was lonely and looking for company.
Mr Clegg told the court: ”She was alone. In the next flat adjoining hers, with the front door just around the corner, was Vincent Tabak – her neighbour.
”They had never really met each other before.
”Their meeting that night and what followed was unplanned and pure chance. Vincent Tabak left his flat.
”He was walking towards his car intending to drive to Asda when he passed Joanna’s kitchen window.
”Her blind was up. She looked up and saw Vincent Tabak, her neighbour. He noticed her.
”There was a nod of acknowledgement between the two and she beckoned for him to re-trace his steps and to come in. Joanna opened up the front door and invited him in.
”He took off his coat and hung it up on the coat rack which was in her hall.
”She offered him a drink – he declined as he was driving later. They introduced themselves to each other and chatted as neighbours do.
”She said that her boyfriend was away and she was alone. He said that his girlfriend was away and he was alone.”
Mr Clegg then paused before he described the moments before Jo Yeates was killed inside Flat One, 44 Canynge Road, Clifton, Bristol.
He said: ”As the two of them talked inside that flat, Vincent Tabak completely misread the situation that he had walked into.
”Joanna was only being sociable as many neighbours would have been – particularly around Christmas time – but he misread her friendliness towards him and made a move towards her as if he was about to kiss her on the lips.
”He put one arm behind her back, in the middle of her back to draw her closer to him.
”She screamed. It was a loud, piercing scream. He panicked. He put a hand over her mouth to stifle the scream and said to her to stop screaming.
”He apologised and said he was sorry. He took his hand away and she carried on screaming. He panicked.
”He put one hand around her throat and the other around her mouth. In seconds – far less than a minute – Joanna went limp.
”She was dead. He never intended to kill her. Nothing had been planned. Nothing was premeditated.”
The court heard the 6ft 4inch Dutch national went back to his flat – returning to Jo’s to turn off her oven – then heaved her corpse back to his flat.
There the court was told he stuffed her body into a bike cover, before bundling it into the back of his Renault Megane and driving to Asda.
Tabak later dumped her body by the roadside in remote Longwood Lane – three miles from her home in Clifton, Bristol – after failing to get her over a wall into a quarry below.
He bagged up her Tesco Finest pizza, bought minutes before her death, a grey ski sock that had fallen off her foot and the bike cover – before throwing them out with the rubbish, the court was told.
Mr Clegg condemned Tabak’s ”disgusting” behaviour after the killing, citing him trying to cover his tracks and trying to lead a normal life of work and dinner parties.
He claimed it had caused ”anguish” for her family and Tabak should have dialled 999 or realised it wouldn’t be long before the police came ”knocking at his door”.
But he said all that mattered was his clients intention in the ”seconds” in which he strangled Jo.
He told the court: ”What he did after that won’t be excused by us who defend him. His conduct afterwards was frankly disgusting.
”He took the body and hid it – thereby causing untold anguish and agony to Joanna’s family who had no idea what had happened to her, and did everything to cover his tracks.
”You wont hear me trying to excuse his conduct. He told lie after lie.
”But it doesn’t actually help establish what was going through his mind and what his intention was on the night Joanna died.
”What is being tried for is whether when he killed Joanna Yeates that was planned and premeditated and something that he intended to do.
”Or whether he panicked and did it without thinking of the consequences.”
Jo sustained 43 separate injuries before being dumped in the snow in Longwood Lane in Failand near Bristol.
Dog walkers found her partially-clothed body on Christmas morning.
Tabak has admitted the manslaughter of pretty Jo, but denies her murder.
The murder trial, before the Honourable Mr Justice Richard Field, is expected to last for another week.