The man accused of strangling Jane Longhurst tied stockings round the necks of two former girlfriends during sex, a court heard.

Neither woman enjoyed the sessions but they were willing to please their lover.

Graham Coutts wanted to go further and squeeze their necks until they were unconscious but both refused.

Coutts, a 35-year-old guitarist of Waterloo Street, Hove, denies murdering Miss Longhurst between March 14 and April 19 last year.

Nicola Stainthorpe told Lewes Crown Court yesterday how she and Coutts had been lovers for two years until 1998.

They met when both worked for a local window replacement company, Storm Seal.

Coutts, she said, would tie her hands together with a stocking or dressing gown cord and he would stroke her neck.

He would ask her to put her hands round his neck. She said: "He wanted me to press harder and harder with a view to making him pass out. I wouldn't do it."

Coutts, she continued, would put his hands round her neck and wanted to make her black out to heighten the pleasure.

Miss Stainthorpe said he later used stockings and added: "If I told him to stop he would."

Cross examined by Jeremy Gold, defending, she said she never liked the sessions but agreed to them because "at that time I thought I was in a loving relationship.

"I enjoyed the effect it had on him."

Miss Stainthorpe and another former girlfriend, Sandra Gates, gave their evidence from behind a screen.

Miss Gates, 11 years older than Coutts and a mother of four, also met Coutts through the window company.

Her "on-off" relationship with him lasted seven years until 1996.

She said he would put his hands or tights or knickers round her neck.

"He sometimes wanted me to struggle and other times he wanted me to be quiet and act as if I was unconscious. He said it was better this way."

Coutts would also use stockings to tie her hands behind her back.

John Kelsey-Fry, prosecuting, asked her: "I know this is a ghastly subject to discuss in public but did you enjoy it?"

Miss Gates said: "No. I was willing to allow him to do it up to a certain extent. It never got to a point where I got really frightened. He never did me physical harm."

Cross-examined, she agreed Coutts was considerate during sex and made efforts to please her.

She said "He thought he was giving me pleasure but he was not."

Coutts is accused of strangling Miss Longhurst to death and hiding her body for a month before dumping and setting it on fire at Wiggonholt Common, Pulborough.

Miss Longhurst, a 31-year-old musician and teacher at Uplands School for children with learning difficulties in Hollingdean, Brighton, lived with her partner in Shaftesbury Road, Brighton.

She was friends with Coutts' partner and was enjoying a day off on the day she went missing.

Miss Longhurst's body was found with a pair of tights tied tightly round her neck, several weeks after she had died.

Home Office pathologist Dr Vesna Djurovic told the court the evidence suggested this was a sexually-motivated death.

It was probably caused by obstruction to the airway or starvation of blood to the brain. Miss Longhurst would have struggled for several seconds before passing out and death would have occurred two to three minutes later.

Dr Djurovic said there was a third strangulation method, one used by the armed services, a grip on a specific area of the throat that could cause the heart to stop and instant collapse.

The court has been told Coutts will argue Miss Longhurst's death was an accident.

Mr Gold asked Dr Djurovic if that grip could be achieved if the man was on his back and the woman on her knees across his body while he held a ligature above her neck.

Dr Djurovic said it was unlikely but if it did happen it would cause discomfort to the woman.

She said the man would see blood appear in the nose and mouth within 15 to 30 seconds before death occurred.

Tributes to Miss Longhurst from a neighbour and a fellow musician were read to court.

The court was not sitting today and the trial is expected to resume on Monday.