The family of Joanna Yeates sat a few feet from her killer at Bristol Crown Court yesterday as he demonstrated how he strangled her.

“It was like this,” said Vincent Tabak, 33, holding up his right hand, open and outstretched. The Dutch engineer was giving his first public account of how he killed the landscape architect, 25, in her flat in Clifton, Bristol, on December 17 last year, before dumping her body on a roadside verge. She was found by two walkers on Christmas Day.

“I did something horrendous,” Tabak said, weeping as he explained what happened when he arrived at the secluded spot at Failand, 5km from Clifton, after midnight.

“I decided to leave her body there. Two or three cars drove past. I was in a state of total panic and stress. I am so sorry for doing that. I put Jo’s parents and Greg [Reardon, her boyfriend] through a week of hell.”

Yeates’s parents, David and Teresa, did not look at Tabak once as he answered questions for several hours. Tabak’s two sisters were also present. Nigel Lickley, QC, for the prosecution, called him “calculating, dishonest and manipulative” as he questioned him about events.

Tabak said Yeates invited him into her flat, then flirted with him, after the two had made eye contact as he passed her kitchen window.

 The neighbours had never spoken before.

He told jurors they talked about her cat, which had found its way into his flat when he was away working in Los Angeles the previous month. “She made a bit flirty comment,” he said. “Something like the cat went into places that it shouldn’t go. A bit like me. I decided to make a pass at her. I got the impression she wanted to kiss me.”

It is then that Tabak claims Yeates screamed. He said he covered her mouth to stop her cries and put a second hand around her throat. After about 20 seconds, her body went limp, he said. Neighbours have said they heard screams.

Tabak admits manslaughter but denies murder. The trial continues.