A South African man accused of murdering a gay man in Brighton has told a jury the pair had discussed getting married in order to sort out “visa issues”.

Ricardo Pisano, 36, said Michael Polding, 62, threw an engagement party at one point but that he did not feel comfortable about it.

Mr Pisano told Lewes Crown Court he did not consider himself gay but did believe the pair to be friends.

The court was told the two men had a complicated relationship which began in 2009 when Mr Polding answered an advert in a gay magazine for a male prostitute.

A few months later Mr Pisano moved in to Mr Polding’s flat in Croydon, south London, and later followed him to Brighton.

In testimony Mr Pisano said Ricardo Pisano was not his real name and that he had a daughter and an ex-wife in South Africa, who he had not seen since leaving the country in 2000.

He said Mr Polding gave him money to send to his family and offered to marry him in order to sort out his “visa issues” so he could remain in the UK.

Mr Pisano said he had been jailed in New Zealand for extortion, then lived in Australia for 18 months and arrived in the UK illegally in 2004.

He claimed Mr Polding knew about some of his past, including that he feared for his life if he returned to South Africa.

The jury also learnt of Mr Polding’s health problems and that he drank heavily.

Earlier in the trial, in police interviews played to the jury, Mr Pisano said he came back to the Brighton flat he shared with Mr Polding and found he had taken his own life by hanging himself from a banister.

Mr Pisano said he tried and failed to revive him and then panicked and fled.

The body of Michael Polding was found by police in his flat on St George’s Road, Brighton, on 16 July last year, nearly two months after his death.

Mr Pisano, of Southampton, Hampshire, denies murder and grievous bodily harm but has admitted preventing the lawful and decent burial of a body.

He went on the run for nearly a year until he was arrested in Southampton on 7 May.

The trial continues.

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