A teacher who died while travelling in Cuba was strangled by a hostel worker, an inquest has heard.
Lara Jones, 26, from Goosnargh, near Preston, was discovered by maids in a hostel bedroom in Havana on the morning of March 15 last year.
Preston Coroner’s Court heard yesterday the English language teacher was killed by an unnamed Cuban man working as a security guard at the hostel – who is now serving a 22-year prison sentence for her murder.
Lara went travelling in January 2012 and explored Mexico before flying to the Cuban capital on March 12.
The former St Francis’s Primary School pupil was staying in a hostel called Convento de Santa Clara Havana in Havana Old Town and was due to return home on March 18.
However, on the morning of March 15, Lara didn’t come down to the hostel’s reception for a trip she was booked to go on.
And when a receptionist and a maid went up to check on her, she was found dead in her room.
Lara’s mum Carolyn Jones, who lives in Whittingham with Lara’s sisters Jessica and Sophie, told the inquest: “The staff called the police and a large-scale investigation was launched. “One of the security guards from the hostel was arrested and later, in the face of the evidence collected by the police, admitted that he had gone to Lara’s room and suffocated her.
“He gave no explanation as to his reasoning but it was clear from the evidence and the medical examinations carried out that he had entered Lara’s room and, approaching her from behind, had taken Lara by surprise and had suffocated her.
“There was no evidence that Lara had the opportunity to defend herself in anyway. He gave no explanation for his action.”
Home Office pathologist Dr Alison Armour carried out a post-mortem examination after Lara’s body was flown back to the UK.
She said there was bruising on her neck, cheeks and chin and also on her arms.
She said: “There were obvious signs of asphyxia to the body.
“The marks to the neck and face in my view would be in keeping with strangulation and a degree of smothering of nose and mouth by a soft object or hand.
“In my opinion the strangulation was most likely manual but I can’t exclude the use of a soft ligature or a piece of clothing because these often leave no sign.
“I’m in no doubt this young woman died from asphyxiation.”
Preston’s deputy coroner Dr Simon Jones read out a statement from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Cuba in court.
It said Lara’s body was found between two beds in the room where she had been staying at around 11.30am.
A murder investigation was then started by Cuban police.
Dr Jones said: “During interviews with the suspect on March 25 he admitted committing the crime.
“The report concludes it was unlikely the victim could have screamed without being heard by the other porters.”
Dr Jones formally recorded asphyxia as the cause of death and returned a conclusion of unlawful killing.
Addressing Carolyn Jones, he added: “I’m now at a loss as to what to say. There is nothing I can say to you that offers any comfort.
“I recognise that this is the most awful thing that can happen to anybody.
“I hope you accept my sympathies and I’m sorry you had to come here today.”
Cuban police, the Cuban Embassy and the British Foreign Office refused to provide any information about the circumstances surrounding Lara’s death 18 months ago.
A spokesman for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office said its general position was to confirm whether somebody had died, been arrested or hospitalised, when it happened, and if it was providing consular assistance.
He said: “We don’t comment on investigations carried out by authorities of other countries.
“We provide risk assessments for travellers and that goes in our travel advice.”
The Cuban Embassy declined to comment.