Man 'murdered his ex-girlfriend after calling with gift for baby'

A DRIVING instructor strangled his former girlfriend out of "anger and temper" while visiting her with a gift for their baby daughter, a jury was told.

Police officers found the unconscious body of Laura Smith in the living room of her parents' home in Southwold Rise, Eastfield, Scarborough, after Nigel Pickard dialled 999 to report a fight with her.

In text messages over previous weeks he had tried to persuade her to return to him and "it was clear he could not accept the relationship was at an end", Richard Wright, prosecuting, told Leeds Crown Court yesterday.

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He had also accused her wrongly of starting a relationship with another man, storing her number in his phone under the name "slut", he said.

On their arrival at the house, Miss Smith, 29, did not appear to be breathing but police officers tried to resuscitate her and paramedics took over when they arrived, managing to get a pulse.

She was taken to Scarborough Hospital but did not regain consciousness, however, and died the next day as a result of brain damage caused by oxygen starvation.

Mr Wright told the jury a pathologist found massive bruising within the tissue of her neck consistent with Pickard's account that he had first grabbed her in a headlock, as well as external finger print bruising from strangulation.

She also had a large number of other bruises to her face, scalp, body and limbs reflecting a "prolonged and violent struggle as her body came in contact with the floor and furniture as she was literally fighting for her life," he said.

Pickard, 45, of Filey Road, Scarborough, denies the murder of Miss Smith, a hairdresser, in July last year.

Mr Wright told the jury Pickard accepted he was responsible for her injuries but maintained he never intended to kill or seriously injure her.

He said the couple's relationship was good at the start but changed after Miss Smith discovered she was unexpectedly pregnant with their daughter Olivia which led to problems between them.

Those difficulties increased after the birth and culminated in her moving out of Pickard's flat and returning to live at her parents' home.

Mr Wright said in the weeks before her death things "moved from bad to worse" and he could not accept she did not want to return to him.

In some of his text messages he continued to try to win her back, while in others he expressed his anger, jealously accusing her of seeing someone else, raising custody issues and attention seeking that he would threaten to harm himself.

Mr Wright said eventually Miss Smith changed her phone number so he could not reach her and friends and family noticed how it was affecting her in terms of worry and weight loss.

On Sunday July 11 her parents left the house for a trip to York at around 10.20am. The 999 call was made by Pickard at 11.36am in which he told the operator she was unconscious.

The phone call was played to the jury in which baby Olivia could be heard crying in the background in the kitchen.

Pickard told one of the first officers on the scene they had been fighting and he grabbed her throat with his hand. He later described in interview their strained relationship over the previous weeks and how he had not been eating or sleeping. He said she had threatened to go to a solicitor about his access to their daughter and he had gone round to try and "smooth that over."

The toy panda he had taken to the house for Olivia was found in the kitchen. He said Laura cut her hand trying to get it out of the box.

She was speaking to him in a normal manner but he felt angry because it was as if she felt nothing for him. "I just flew for her."

He first put his arm around her neck in a headlock and kept squeezing. She tried to push him away and they fell to the floor in the living room as she scratched his face. Pickard said he wanted to hurt her for all the suffering he had had and put his hand round her throat, but stopped when he heard their daughter crying.

The trial continues.