Deceased appeared to have been bludgeoned with hammer

A MAN found dead in his blood-soaked bed was killed by repeated blows to the head, probably with a hammer, a murder trial jury was told.

John Littlewood, who had been dead for several days, was found in a bedroom at his terraced home in Blackhall Colliery, County Durham, by his “on/off” partner Julie Muir, who had gone to the property, in Third Street, as she had not seen or heard from him for a few days.

Teesside Crown Court was told she found the back door unlocked, but closed, and so she entered and went upstairs, on July 30, 2019.

Richard Wright QC, prosecuting, said she went into the main bedroom and discovered the body of Mr Littlewood, known locally as ‘John D’, lying in bed surrounded by blood stains.

“He was dead and had been for some time,” said Mr Wright.

“John Littlewood had been murdered in his bed at home by assailants who used a weapon, most likely a hammer, to rain multiple blows down on his head and face, causing devastating injuries to his brain.

“No weapon was found at 32 Third Street and it’s a sensible conclusion, therefore, that the killer had removed the weapon from the scene.”

The 36-year-old father, described as having “a heart of gold”, was said to have died from repeated head injuries.

Mr Wright said the prosecution alleges the person who attacked Mr Littlewood was Matty Bates, a supposed “friend” of the deceased who had been in his company for much of the previous day.

The killing is said to have taken place in the early hours of Friday July 26, 2019, when Bates is alleged to have returned to the house, entering by the back door, on where his thumb print was later found, and attacked Mr Littlewood.

Mr Wright said as there were no defence injuries or trail of blood leading to the bedroom, it was believed Bates attacked him as he slept in bed.

Bates has admitted an earlier assault on Mr Littlewood, downstairs in the house between 10 and 10.23pm the previous night, in which the victim’s head was cut.

Mr Wright said it is the Crown’s case that Bates was assisted in the commission of the killing by his partner, Tracey Bunney, who he said, “shares joint legal responsibility for the killing.”

She is said to have driven him to the back lane behind Third Street, dropping him off shortly after midnight and then returning home alone in their BMW.

Closed circuit tv footage around the village was shown to the jury in which Mr Wright said a bare-chested Bates, wearing shorts, can be seen walking back towards his home from the direction of Third Street in the early hours of July 26.

Mr Wright said it is further alleged that the couple, of Tenth Street, Blackhall, were indirectly assisted by third defendant, Donna Balfour, together with her partner, James Riley, of nearby Ninth Street in the ex-colliery village.

They were said to have destroyed evidence which may have helped to pinpoint Bates as the killer and their involvement in the crime.

It is said they turned off the power to prevent their cctv system filming late on the night of July 25, when all the defendants were at their home.

They also later unsuccessfully tried delete its entire contents.

Ms Balfour and Riley are also later reported to have threatened Mr Littlewood’s next-door neighbour, asking her to delete messages from them from her phone and threatening her not to report their presence and suspicious activity at Mr Littlewood’s home in the days after his death, but before his body was found.

Bates, 31, and 45-year-old Ms Bunney, both deny murder, while Ms Balfour, 36, denies doing acts tending, or intended, to pervert the course of justice and witness intimidation.

Riley, 31, has already pleaded guilty to assaulting Mr Littlewood with Bates, late on July 25, perverting the course of justice by interfering with the cctv system at his home and witness intimidation.

He will be sentenced after the outcome of the trial of his three co-accused.

The hearing, which continues tomorrow, is expected to run for between three to four weeks.

The Northern Echo | Durham