Three convicted after “vicious and callous” murder in County Durham

John Littlewood Credit: Family photograph

Three people have been convicted for their part in the “vicious and callous” murder of a man in County Durham.

The body of John Littlewood was found in the bedroom of his home on Third Street, Blackhall Colliery, in July 2019.

He had been living there for just two weeks.

He had suffered serious head injuries after being repeatedly beaten with a blunt instrument.

At Teesside Crown Court, Marty Bates, 31, of Tenth Street, Blackhall Colliery, changed his plea to guilty having earlier denied murder.

Co-accused Donna Balfour, 36, of Ninth Street, Blackhall, pleaded guilty to perverting the course of justice by interfering with a CCTV system at her home.

Her partner, James Riley, 31, also of Ninth Street, Blackhall, previously pleaded guilty to intending to pervert the course of justice, witness intimidation, and a further count of assault occasioning actual bodily harm in relation to a separate incident.

A fourth defendant was acquitted of all charges following a trial.

The court heard that the defendants had visited John Littlewood in his new home on the evening of July 25th 2019 and the 36-year-old was murdered at some point between that night and the following morning.

His body was found in his bed five days later.

During the intervening days, the defendants were spotted together at the bingo, while Riley was seen buying firelighters and Marigold gloves at a convenience store in Hartlepool.

Detective Superintendent Kevin Weir, who led the murder investigation, said: “This was a particularly difficult and complex investigation that spanned several months and involved dozens of specialist officers and staff.

“The investigation team has worked incredibly hard to bring this case to court, so I am pleased it has culminated in the successful conviction of Marty Bates, James Riley and Donna Balfour.

Bates is a callous individual who has shown no remorse for his actions. On the Sunday evening, while John lay dead in his bed, unbelievably he joined his friends, Riley and Balfour, at the bingo in Peterlee as if nothing had happened.

Detective Superintendent Kevin Weir

“This was a vicious attack and there is no doubt John suffered at the hands of his killers. Although nothing can bring John back, I hope that these convictions will offer his family some comfort that justice has been served and bring some closure to the terrible suffering they have endured.

“Thanks must also go to the members of the public who came forward as a result of a media appeal – your information has proved vital in ensuring justice for John and his family”.

All three will be sentenced at Teesside Crown Court.