A man has been found guilty of murdering his fiancée in a tent on a camping weekend near Seaford in 2018.
Christopher Cole, 31, of Clun Road, Wick, Littlehampton denied killing Sarah Clayton at the Buckle caravan and camping site in Marine Parade on 13 May, 2018.
But following a trial at Lewes Crown Court, a jury found Cole, who worked as a cleaner, guilty of murder on Friday (June 25). He will be sentenced on Wednesday (June 30).
The court heard that detectives from the Surrey and Sussex Major Crime Team launched a murder investigation after 21-year-old Sarah was sadly found dead in a tent at the site.
Cole told the court that he was frantic when he returned to the tent to find her cold and unresponsive and he phoned 999 to summon help. The emergency operator tried to talk Cole through how to perform CPR, however Cole who had training in resuscitation, admitted that he stopped within seconds of starting the procedure saying he physically couldn’t do it.
Cole said the couple had argued after coming back to find their tent waterlogged. Other campers at the site described hearing choking noises coming from their tent overnight and a man saying: “If you don’t shut up, I will shut you up”.
Sarah’s body was found next to a pillow in a section of the tent which was separate to the sleeping area. Subsequent tests on her body did not reveal her exact cause of death. A possibility is that she died of sudden adult death syndrome but pathologists could also not rule out the fact that Cole had smothered her with a pillow.
The prosecution maintained that Cole killed Sarah in a fit of anger and then tried to look like he was trying to summon help by dialling 999.
Those who first came upon the defendant that morning noted that he was counting, so that the emergency operator would hear him, but not actually performing CPR that the operator was asking him to undertake.
After the case Sarah’s family paid tribute to her saying: “Sarah was the centre of our lives. She was and is much loved by her entire family and the pain of losing her is unimaginable. We are grateful that justice has been done, it will never bring Sarah back but the trial has answered some of the questions we have and it has bought some closure.
“We would like to thank the police for their support over the past three years and would ask that our privacy is respected so we can now begin to grieve.”
Detective Constable Scott Elmer from the Surrey and Sussex Major Crime Team said: “Sarah was a 21-year-old woman who had her whole life ahead of her. She went on a camping trip with her fiancée, Christopher Cole in May 2018 and overnight he killed Sarah by smothering her.
“He has never admitted this terrible act and Sarah’s family have endured a long investigation which took over three years to reach trial.
“This was always a complex case due to the nature of the murder and we are grateful to the expert witnesses who assisted this enquiry but mostly we would like to thank those other campers who tried to render first aid to Sarah and provided vital evidence during this trial. Also to those witnesses who bravely provided evidence as to the character of the defendant.
“Our thoughts are with Sarah’s family and friends and I hope that this verdict brings them some peace.”