John Littlewood murder trial day one recap - Blackhall Dad was murdered in his bed court told

A murder trial into the death of Blackhall Colliery dad John Littlewood is under way.

Tuesday, 16th March 2021, 5:08 pm

The 36-year-old was found dead inside a house in Third Street in the village on Tuesday, July 30, 2019, with the house cordoned off by detectives as inquiries got underway.

It was later confirmed by Durham Constabulary that he died of head injuries.

Teesside Crown Court is hearing the case, which could last around three weeks.

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John Littlewood, 36, was found dead inside a house in Third Street, Blackhall Colliery, on Tuesday, July 30, 2019.
John Littlewood, 36, was found dead inside a house in Third Street, Blackhall Colliery, on Tuesday, July 30, 2019.

The defendants each come from the village and are Donna Balfour, Ninth Street, 36, Marty Bates, Tenth Street, 31, and Tracey Amanda Bunney, of Tenth Street, 45.

Scroll down for updates.

Blackhall murder trial: RECAP

Last updated: Tuesday, 16 March, 2021, 15:29

Jury sworn in yesterday

The 12 jurors were sworn in on Monday and told to expect the case to be opened during the course of tomorrow, Tuesday, March 16, to last three weeks.

Judge Paul Watson, the Recorder of Middlesbrough, told them they hear “complex” details as they listened into the “serious and important case.”

Three defendants facing trial

Marty Lee Bates, 31, and Tracey Amanda Bunney, 45, both of Tenth Street in the village deny Mr Littlewood’s murder, which is said to have happened between Friday, July 26, and Wednesday, July 21, 2019.

Donna Balfour, 36, of Ninth Street, denies perverting the course of justice between Friday, July 26, and Friday, August 2, 2019, and witness intimidation on Monday, July 29.

Judge has entered the court

The judge The Recorder of Middlesbrough Paul Watson QC, has entered court and the jury have just taken their seats.

They are due to hear an opening outline of the evidence that they will hear in the case against the three defendants; Donna Balfour, 36, of Ninth Street, Marty Lee Bates, 31, and Tracey Amanda Bunney, 45, both of Tenth Street, Blackhall.

Blackhall dad was murdered in his bed, prosecution tells court

Prosecutor Richard Wright QC tells the jury that John Littlewood was murdered in his bed at his home at Third Street, Blackhall Colliery after being the victim of a vicious attack.

Mr Wright said he was found by his on-off partner Julie Muir after she became concerned that she had not heard from him for some time so went round to his house.

“She went upstairs to the main bedroom where she discovered the body of John Littlewood lying in bed surrounded by bloodstains.”

Mr Wright said he had been dead for some time.

He added: “John Littlewood had been murdered in his bed at home by an assailant who had used a weapon, most likely a hammer to rain multiple blows down upon his head and face causing devastating injuries.”

Marty Bates is alleged to have been his attacker. Bates’ partner Tracy Bunney is accused of helping him and the prosecution say she “shares joint legal responsibility for the killing”.

Defendants became friends with victim in weeks before death

The prosecution claim Mr Littlewood was killed in the early hours of Friday, July 26 2019.

Mr Wright said Mr Littlewood, who was 36, had formed casual friendships with the defendants in the weeks before he died. They were said to be ‘very regular visitors indeed’ to his home in Third Street.

No witnesses to the killing

Mr Wright QC has told the jury there were no witnesses to the killing.

Instead the prosecution says the jury can be sure of the defendants’ guilt from a number of different strands of evidence including CCTV footage which will be played during the trial.

The case is expected to last for three weeks.

Couple travelled to victim’s home to attack him

Mr Wright QC alleged that in the early hours of July 26 in 2019, Bates and Bunney travelled in their silver BMW car from the home of Donna Balfour and James Riley in Ninth Street, Blackhall, to John Littlewood’s home “in order for Bates to attack him.”  Bates and Bunney were in a relationship at the time, as were Balfour and Riley, said Mr Wright.

Both couples were friends and all are said to have known Mr Littlewood.

CCTV shown to the court

The prosecution has played some CCTV footage taken from Mr Littlewood’s street in the days before he was murdered.

It is said to show James Riley there just after 7.30pm on July 24. Mr Littlewood is said to have broken up with Julie Muir the same day.

On July 25 CCTV is said to show Bates and Bunney collecting Mr Littlewood in their silver BMW at around 10am. He returns at around 1pm with a bag of clothes he collected from Miss Muir.

Later at around 6pm Mr Littlewood was captured on CCTV with Bates and Bunney in a Premier store in Peterlee. The prosecution say Mr Littlewood appeared to be walking with a lack of mobility.

Prosecution outlines Mr Littlewood’s last known movements

The jury have returned from their break.

Prosecutor Mr Wright QC is continuing to outline Mr Littlewood’s movements on what is said to have been the last full day of his life on Thursday, July 25.

At around 7.35pm Mr Littlewood is said to have travelled from his home address with Bates and Bunney in their silver BMW. The car was picked up travelling south towards Hartlepool about six minutes later.

Shortly after, Balfour and Riley attend Mr Littlewood’s house and knock on his door. Riley had also tried to call Mr Littlewood on his phone.

‘Tension’ brewed on car ride

Mr Wright outlined how Mr Littlewood together with Bates and Bunney drove to Hartlepool to collect Mr Littlewood’s on-off partner Julie Nuir and go back to Third Street, Blackhall.

According to Miss Muir, Mr Wright says there was tension and “atmosphere brewing” between Bates and Bunney with the couple arguing on the car journey back.

Witness told victim ‘had been glassed’

The prosecution is continuing its opening outline to the jury.

Prosecutor Richard Wright QC says Mr Littlewood was attacked for the first time on the night of July 25 in his home by the defendants Bates and Riley.

Mr Littlewood who was said to have been ‘heavily intoxicated’ was punched by Bates and kicked by Riley, said Mr Wright.

“The attack upon him caused a cut to his head,” he said.

A witness in the street is said to have heard Tracey Bunney come out of the house and say that Mr Littlewood has been glassed.

Hearing breaks for lunch

The case has been adjourned until 2pm for lunch.

Police found house ‘untidy’ when investigating murder

The jury are back from lunch and Mr Wright is continuing to outline the events leading up to Mr Littlewood’s death.

The prosecution say Mr Littlewood was house proud, but when scenes of crime officers attended after his body was found, it was in the same untidy state it was after he had been attacked by Bates and Riley.

There were clothes unpacked and the wrapping of a plaster used to treat the injury he suffered still in place.

Shortly after the prosecution say Mr Littlewood was first attacked by Riley and Bates at around 10.30pm on Thursday, July 25 Bates and Bunney are said to have left Mr Littlewood’s house and gone to Riley and Balfour’s home in Ninth Street, Blackhall Colliery.

In the early hours Mr Wright told the jury the power to home’s CCTV system was cut for about 22 minutes just after midnight meaning no footage was recorded.

An unsuccessful attempt was later made to try to delete all footage, added the prosecutor. But he said other CCTV in the area showed Tracey Bunney drive Bates in their silver BMW to the rear of Mr Littlewood’s home. 

It is alleged she left him there and drove home to Tenth Street.

Mr Wright said Bates was seen on CCTV later walking home. He said: “He was we invite you to conclude making his way home after he had beaten him to death with a weapon in his own bed.”

Blood covered trainers never found

The trial has heard that trainers and shorts that Marty Bates was seen wearing on July 25 into July 26 have never been recovered.

Mr Wright said: “The forensic scientist who examined the scene considered the person who attacked and killed John Littlewood would have probably been heavily contaminated with John Littlewood’s blood.”

Mr Wright suggested it was “no innocent coincidence” that these had not been found.

He added there were no verified sightings of Mr Littlewood after he was seen going in his house for the last time on July 25.

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