THE MAN accused of smothering his girlfriend to death in a waterlogged tent has denied murdering her in a fit of rage.

Christopher Cole, 31, said he was frantic after finding his partner Sarah Clayton, 21, cold and unresponsive at the Buckle holiday park in Seaford.

He is accused of killing her after witnesses reported hearing “choking noises” and a row between them as their tent became inundated with water.

One witness reported hearing Cole say: “If you don’t shut up, I will shut you up.”

But at Lewes Crown Court the accused stepped into the witness box to tell the jury that he did not kill Ms Clayton in May 2018.

The Argus: The scene at the Buckle holiday camp in Seaford in May 2018The scene at the Buckle holiday camp in Seaford in May 2018

He said she was given strict rules about staying away from drugs or she would be thrown out of his parents house in Littlehampton.

Mr Cole said they had been in a relationship for five months before her death, and said he planned to marry her.

They argued after coming back to find the tent waterlogged, Mr Cole agreed.

Mr Cole went back to the tent around 6am on Sunday morning after waking up to go to the toilet.

"I had a gut feeling there was something really not right here," Mr Cole said. "I knelt down next to her and shook her but got no response at all.

"She was very stiff. I knew from experience, while the paramedics were coming I should try something.

"I tried my best. At this point I was frantic. It was somebody I really cared about. It was emotional overload.

The Argus: Christopher Cole denies murdering his girlfriend Sarah Clayton in SeafordChristopher Cole denies murdering his girlfriend Sarah Clayton in Seaford

"You imagine as if that was your partner," Mr Cole said. "It just seemed to go on and on like I was on an endless nightmare. I was hysterical."

Duncan Atkinson QC probed Mr Cole over his refusal to answer police questions when he was interviewed later.

"You had been arrested on suspicion of murder," Mr Atkinson said.

"Suspicion, yes,” Cole replied. "I can't explain why it ended like it ended.”

Earlier, the court heard another ex-girlfriend had accused Mr Cole of grabbing her by the neck.

The Argus: Sarah Clayton was found dead in a tent in Seaford in May 2018Sarah Clayton was found dead in a tent in Seaford in May 2018

Mr Atkinson said: "You had become angry with Sarah and had sought to exert control over her by restricting her ability to breathe, as you had done in the past.”

"I disagree with you totally," Mr Cole replied.

"When daylight came, you realised what you had done and by that Sunday evening you were seeking to protect yourself from what you had done, to hold back answers until you could think of better ones," Mr Atkinson said.

"I don't agree with you," Mr Cole said.

"I've got a mind of my own. No one can lead me. Everyone makes their own choices in life."

Christopher Cole, of Clun Road, Wick, Littlehampton, denies murder.

The trial continues.