An Old Bailey judge issued a “stark warning” to online daters to always meet in public as she jailed a man for life for strangling and stabbing to death a single mother he had met online for sex.
Miles Donnelly, 35, promised to treat mother-of-one Usha Patel “like a princess” after they met through dating website Oasis, swapping WhatsApp messages and speaking on the phone before agreeing to a first date at her flat in Cricklewood.
However, after drinking bottles of wine and cider and stripping naked for sex, Donnelly flew into a “frenzied” rage, strangling the 44-year-old, beating her round the head, and then stabbing her repeatedly as she lay dead or dying.
Donnelly, a career criminal with a history of drunken violence towards women, fled, leaving Ms Patel’s five-year-old autistic son to find her bloodied and battered body on the sofa the next morning.
Judge Wendy Joseph QC today jailed Donnelly for life with a minimum term of 23 years, and warned people using online dating to take precautions before being alone with a stranger.
“This case is a stark warning to anyone who plans to meet someone following limited online contact”, she said.
Life in prison: Miles Donnelly (Metropolitan Police)
“That meeting must take place in a public place until one person feels they know someone well enough.
“Usha Patel invited this defendant to come to her flat, she had spoken to him on a number of occasions on the phone and they had exchanged photos of their children.
“She was clearly anxious to meet a new partner but she paid for this invitation with her life.
“She was in my judgement an extremely vulnerable woman both by reason of what I know of her background and way of life at the time, but also in the moments leading to her death when she was undressed and heavily intoxicated.”
Donnelly knew Ms Patel’s young son would be home when he agreed to come round on October 7 last year, asking her to buy bottles of cider and rose wine for them to drink on their date.
He had also made a string of sexual demands in texts before the date, the court heard, and she had agreed to some but refused others.
“It seems to me likely Usha may have changed her mind about having sex or refused some particular sexual activity”, said the judge, noting that Donnelly has never revealed the true motive for the murder.
He initially claimed to not remember the attack but when he pleaded guilty conceded there had been a “brief argument”.
“You strangled her with a terrible ferocity and even now have shown no real remorse for your actions”, added the judge.
Ms Patel’s father Gopal found her body the following morning, when he went to her home in Melrose Avenue to collect her young son.
The boy was standing at the window and told his grandfather: “Mummy’s not well”, the court heard.
Mr Patel said the murder has left him and his wife “like the walking dead” and they could not bear to attend court today because they did not want to hear details of their daughter’s murder.
“After drinking together and undressing, he killed her by beating her ferociously about the head and by strangling her”, prosecutor Simon Denison QC told the court.
“As she was dying or even just after she had died, he stabbed he a number of times in the stomach.”
Donnelly’s DNA was found on bottles of alcohol next to Ms Patel’s body which had been covered in a duvet, and there were traces of cocaine found on the coffee table, the court heard.
In his haste to leave after the murder, the killer left his underpants, socks, and t-shirt, as well as the blood-soaked bread knife used to stab the single mother.
Pathologists found he must have strangled her for at least 20 seconds, and inflicted 13 separate wounds with the knife.
Donnelly tried to evade capture by hiding for 30 hours at the home of a neighbour, Rosie Ferrigno.
However, when she refused his demands for sex he hit her over the head with a stool and then handed himself in to police.
Judge Joseph imposed a life sentence with a minimum term of 23 years and sentenced him concurrently to 18 months in prison for the attack on Ms Ferrigno.
Donnelly displayed no emotion throughout the sentencing hearing, staring straight ahead as he was jailed.