An Italian backpacker has admitted killing a female writer on a horse-stud farm where he had been volunteering.

Luigi Palmas, 27, had been working at Combe Farm Arabians for just three weeks when he took the life of Katherine Bevan, 53.

Her lifeless body was found in an animal enclosure and police launched a murder probe.

Palmas denied murdering the veterinary pharmacist at the equine-breeding farm at Gittisham, near Honiton, Devon, on January 3 this year.

But today, on what was due to be the opening day of his trial, he admitted manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility.

The plea was accepted by the judge who heard the defendant was suffering from a severe psychiatric disorder at the time.

Mrs Bevan's body was found in the animal enclosure
Mrs Bevan's body was found in the animal enclosure

No further details about the circumstances of Mrs Bevan's death were heard at Exeter Crown Court during the hearing and the case was adjourned for sentencing next month.

At the time of her death, owner of Combe Farm Arabians Michael Harris led the tributes and said: "Katherine was a very, very dear friend and a wonderful person.

"She was the most amazing person and we miss her so very much."

Palmas was remanded in custody back to Broadmoor where he has been held since his arrest.

The killing occured at Combe Farm Arabians
The killing occured at Combe Farm Arabians

The defendant also admitted a second charge of assaulting Nicholas Harris, causing actual bodily harm, at Exeter on January 20 this year.

The court was told his disorder "comes and goes in its severity" but he had been examined by doctors who were unanimous that he wasn't "pulling the wool over their eyes."

A report from one doctor read: "This man's mental illness did play a significant part of why he did what he did on 3 January.

"He was in the grips at that time of the disorder."

Palmas was remanded to Broadmoor

The prosecution told the court that experts believe it was unlikely he would have killed his victim if he was not suffering from the disorder at the time.

They said there was "no good reason" not to accept the plea.

Judge Peter Johnson said: "I am quite satisfied seeing all the material in the case that there is a clear and persuasive arguement of diminished responsibility."

The judge then told the defendant: "You will return to Exeter to be sentenced on the morning of Friday, 13 November and various reports will be prepared between now and then.

Mrs Bevan was living on site at the time of her death

"Once I have seen those and heard from both parties, I will decide on the appropriate sentence.

"I remand you back into custody and I understand you will be taken back to Broadmoor."

Palmas was working as a volunteer at the farm at the time while Mrs Bevan was living on site.

She had separated from her husband and was a well-known member of the local community where she worked as a pharmacist for a vet's practise.

She had been living at Combe Farm for about a year and had recently published a book about her love of cattle called Knowing about Daisy.