Two men and two women appear in court charged with murder of John Littlewood in Blackhall Colliery

Four people have appeared at crown court charged with the murder of a dad from Blackhall Colliery.

Saturday, 28th September 2019, 5:18 pm
John Littlewood was found dead in Blackhall Colliery in July.
John Littlewood was found dead in Blackhall Colliery in July.

The body of John Littlewood – known as John D – was found in a bedroom in a property in Third Street on the evening of Tuesday, July 30.

Four people charged with the murder of the 36-year-old have appeared at Teesside Crown Court on Friday, September 27, after their first appearance at Newton Aycliffe Magistrates’ Court on Thursday.

James Riley, 30, Donna Balfour, 35, both of Ninth Street, Marty Bates, 29, and Tracey Bunney, 44, both of Tenth Street, Blackhall Colliery, have both been charged with murder.

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Riley and Balfour have also been charged with intimidation of a witness.

All four appeared at court via video link on the day a fifth person was arrested in relation to the case.

All four defendants spoke at the court only to confirm their name, date of birth and nationality.

At this stage, no pleas have been entered. All defendants are expected to enter a plea on Friday, October 25, when a second pre-trial hearing will take place.

A trial could last up to four weeks and a date will most likely be set in the new year, the court heard.

A 31-year-old man who was also arrested on suspicion of murder on September 24 has been released under investigation.

Judge Stephen Ashurst told the defendants: “I hope you have been able to hear what has been said.

“Today is going to be a very brief hearing to make sure the preparation of this trial gets under way.

"There will be another hearing on October 25 when each of you will be asked to enter a plea of guilty or not guilty to the charge if murder.

“In addition Balfour and Riley, you will be asked to enter a plea to the charge of intimidation of a witness.”

After his death, John’s family paid tribute to him, saying: “John D was a son, brother and father who liked to help anyone if he could. He had a heart of gold.”