09/24/13 - Daily Mail - Lara Jones: Preston teacher, 26, strangled and smothered by Santa Clara Hostel Security Guard
British teacher, 26, visiting Cuba 'because of its low crime rate' was strangled
and smothered by hostel security guard
* Lara Jones was strangled in her room at the Santa Clara Hostel in
* She was found by staff when she failed to turn up for an excursion
* Security guard at the hostel has been jailed for 22 years for the
* Details of her murder only emerged at an inquest into her death
* Preston deputy coroner ruled she was unlawfully killed by asphyxiation
By Suzannah Hills
Murdered: British teacher Lara Jones, 26, from Preston, Lancashire, was
killed by a hostel security guard while on holiday in Cuba
A young British teacher was ambushed and murdered by a security guard in
her hotel room while on a backpacking holiday alone in Cuba.
Lara Jones, 26, had flown to Fidel Castros Republic after travel guides
said it 'was a haven for female travellers' and had the 'lowest crime rate
in the Western Hemisphere'.
But she was strangled in an apparently motiveless killing after a security
guard crept into her room at a convent-turned hostel in Havana old town.
She was found dead the following day by a maid and a hostel worker when
she failed to turn up for an organised day trip.
The unnamed killer, a Cuban man working as a security guard at the hostel,
was arrested ten days later and was jailed for 22 years after he admitted
He has given no explanation for the killing in March last year. There was
nothing missing and no signs of sexual assault.
Details of Laras death emerged for the first time at an inquest yesterday
which was told how she had 'loved life and lived it to the full'.
The brunette, from Preston, Lancashire, had been educated at the
privately-run Westholme School for girls in Blackburn before graduating in
linguistics at University College London before starting workas a teacher
at EC London English Language School.
She was an experienced traveller and in 2011 had spent several months in
South America teaching English to local students.
Lara spoke Spanish and Portuguese and had travelled extensively through
Mexico, Argentina, Peru, Colombia, Bolivia, and Chile and was said to have
felt 'a great affinity' for the people she met on these trips.
She left the UK again on January 4 last year to travel to Mexico before
flying to flew to Havana on March 14 for a brief sight seeing trip ahead
of returning home on March 18.
In a statement read to the Preston hearing, her mother Carolyn Jones, 58,
who runs a car dealership with Laras father Graham, 64, said: 'Lara was
an experienced and careful traveller.
'She would always send me details of her location and destination. She
would make contact with home daily either by phone, Skype or email.
'I always knew where she was and where she was going. Lara spoke excellent
Spanish and was always sensitive to the social norms of the countries she
visited always dressing in accordance with them.
'She was also aware that is some locations where there is poverty, that
foreign travellers are often assumed to have money by virtue of the fact
they are able to afford to travel and as such are often seen as easy
'She was mindful not to draw undue attention to herself and never carried
expensive equipment or large sums of money with her when she was out in
Lara booked for three nights into the Santa Clara Hostel which was owned
by the Cuban governments Ministry of Culture and had 24 hour security.
She had hoped to stay in a dormitory accommodation for safety reasons but
was given her own room as there were no other guests.
At 11pm on March 14 she was packing her bags for a forthcoming trip to the
coast the following morning when she was attacked.
A statement read to the inquest from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on
behalf of the Republic of Cuba said: 'On March 15, two workers found the
body of Lara Jones on the floor.
'The body was found between two beds in room number six where she had been
staying. The room showed no signs of disturbance.
'Her belongings were found gathered in a small suitcase and rucksack and
the cause of death was asphyxia. One of the workers said she went into the
room as Lara was due to leave the halls.
'The worker had asked a maid to access the room with her. She knocked on
the door and entered using a key and found the victim and informed the
'On March 25, 2012, the defendant was arrested and admitted committing the
crime. It is unlikely she could have screamed without being heard and the
absence of defence injuries indicate she had been taken by surprise.'
Recording a verdict of unlawful killing, deputy coroner of Preston, Simon
Jones, told Lara's family: 'Im now at a loss as to what to say. Theres
nothing I can say that can offer you any comfort to you. I recognise that
this is the most awful thing that can happen to anybody. Please accept my
In a statement given after the inquest the Jones family said: 'Lara loved
life and lived it to the full with unfaltering positivity and seemingly
'She was cherished and loved by her family. The loyalty and support Lara
showed to her friends left them and her family bewildered and confused by
her sudden death.
'The unfathomable unfairness that Lara was given only 26 years of life is
no way mitigated by the knowledge that the defendant must spend the next
22 years of his behind bars.
'Lara was not a vindictive person.
'Lara did everything possible to secure her own personal safety.
'She had researched the country on the UK government website and in the
travel guides which had advised variously that "Cuba has the lowest crime
rate in the Western Hemisphere, no crime, a haven for female travellers",
and she had researched her accommodation as being "good location, friendly
staff and security guards".
'She did everything right and she was in what should have been the safest
'What happened to Lara was totally random, unforeseeable and neither she
nor anyone else could have done anything to prevent it.
'As a daughter and youngest sister we all cherish Lara. Our family is
incomplete without her.'
Since her death her family have set up Laras Foundation and are building
a Laras Foundation School and Community Centre, in Ndala, North Tanzania.
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