20 Oct 2011

Tabak ‘so sorry’ for killing Joanna Yeates

Home Affairs Correspondent

Vincent Tabak breaks down in tears as he describes killing Joanna Yeates and apologies for putting her parents “through a week of hell”. Our home affairs correspondent Andy Davies was in court.

Just after 10 o’clock this morning, the man who killed Joanna Yeates stepped forward to the dock to give evidence for the first time in this trial. Just a few feet away from him in the front row of the public gallery David and Theresa Yeates, together with Joanna’s brother Chris and Greg Reardon, her partner, sat together, facing him.

The court was packed. Dressed in a dark suit and blue tie, the tall, bespectacled 33-year-old, shoulders slightly hunched, began by giving a brief account of his upbringing and education in his native Holland. He described his move to the UK for work and how, until his arrest, he had been working as a space flow analyst on a project involving population movements in Mecca.

He appeared composed initially, speaking clearly, looking directly at his barrister William Clegg QC. But when asked about his girlfriend, Tanja Morson (whom he’d meet on the Guardian Soulmates forum), he looked uncomfortable, breathing deeply as he answered a question about texts they’d exchanged.

I know I put Jo’s parents and Greg through a week of hell and I still can’t believe that I did that. Vincent Tabak

His answers became more punctuated with pauses when discussing Joanna and the events of 17 December 2010, the night he killed her. He scratched his head frequently with his right hand, almost massaging his forehead at one point when describing how he had put his hand around her throat “to calm her down”.

Joanna Yeates

‘Flirtatious comment’

He told the jury he’d never intended to kill Joanna – that he’d misread her friendliness, assuming, he claimed, that she wanted him to kiss her.

Tabak had claimed earlier that Joanna had made a flirtatious comment when discussing her cat, alleging that Joanna had said that she – like her cat – “went to places it shouldn’t go”. A young woman in the public gallery, sitting behind Joanna’s mother, shook her head at this point.

Much evidence has been heard during this trial over the likely period of time in which Tabak strangled Miss Yeates. At one point, William Clegg QC asked Tabak to close his eyes and transport himself back to the moment when he killed Joanna: “When I say start I want you to say ‘now’ when you think the incident ended. Understand?”

The court sat in complete silence as the defendant shut his eyes. He bowed his head, rubbing his forefingers again against his temple, leaning to the right away from the main body of the court. “I think now,” he said, opening his eyes. “’15 seconds’ I’m told,” said Mr Clegg.

Tabak repeated his claims that he had panicked that night and that his actions thereafter stemmed from being in a state of despair and disbelief at what he’d done. He appeared to break down when recalling the moment he abandoned Joanna’s body on the roadside in Longwood lane.

“I’m so sorry for doing that,” he said.

There was a pause. He continued: “I know I put Jo’s parents and Greg through a week of hell and I still can’t believe that I did that”. He took his glasses off and appeared to wipe tears from his eyes, bowing his head once again. He would later claim how this crime would haunt him for the rest of his life, denying that there’d ever been a sexual element to the case.

Throughout his evidence, Joanna’s parents, sat listening quietly beside their son Chris, mostly looking down at the floor.

Vincent Tabak has admitted the manslaughter of Joanna Yeates but denies her murder. The trial continues.