Accused cross-examined in Northumberland shallow grave murder trial

Darren Bonner's naked body was found in woodland in an open, dug out, shallow grave near the shore road between Lynemouth and Cresswell.
Darren Bonner's naked body was found in woodland in an open, dug out, shallow grave near the shore road between Lynemouth and Cresswell.

The evidence of the garage boss who denies murdering his employee has been questioned in court today.

Darren Bonner’s body was found in a dug out hole in woodland near the shore road between Lynemouth and Cresswell, Northumberland, on July 10 last year.

He was taken to hospital, but died 16 days later after suffering irreversible brain damage due to his brain being starved of oxygen and blood.

Richard Spottiswood, 34, of Canterbury Way, Jarrow, told the jury at Newcastle Crown Court yesterday that he did put Mr Bonner in a headlock during an altercation, but he did so to try to calm him down.

He said he then left Mr Bonner at the scene because he thought the 24-year-old was dead after shining a light on Mr Bonner’s face, which “was like a blue and white and his tongue had swelled up.”

He said he told police when interviewed that he knew nothing about the hole or why Mr Bonner ended up there was because he expected Mr Bonner would recover after hearing he was still alive and Spottiswood was sure that Mr Bonner would not tell police about the headlock because he would have to explain the firearms and everything else he was involved in.

Spottiswood said he had a number of cannabis farms and Mr Bonner was involved in his illegal business.

When it was put to the defendant by Timothy Roberts QC, prosecuting, during cross-examination that he found it easy to lie to the police officers when he was interviewed, Spottiswood disagreed and said he was under great stress, adding that he did not tell the police what happened because “if Darren (Bonner) woke up, there would be no problem – I know he wouldn’t say anything”.

The prosecution case accuses Spottiswood of choking Mr Bonner after finding out that he had been ‘spying on him’ for a rival drug dealer and later taking Mr Bonner to the woodland area in the back of a former police riot van, digging a shallow grave and dumping him in the hole.

Spottiswood said that Mr Bonner told him he dug the hole late on Saturday, July 8, or in the early hours of Sunday, July 9, because Mr Bonner wanted to hide some firearms that he was looking to sell.

The defendant told the jury that in the early hours of Monday, July 10, they walked from Cresswell Towers Holiday Park where they had been staying to a woodland area where Mr Bonner had dug the hole.

He said the atmosphere changed when Mr Bonner said he was now not sure if he should bury the bag with the guns inside and mentioned a rival dealer, as it was then Spottiswood said he realised that Mr Bonner had been spying on him.

After the altercation, Spottiswood returned to the holiday park and later that morning, he stopped in a lay-by and retrieved the bag of guns.

When asked what happened to the guns, Spottiswood claims they were placed in a car in his garage, which was subsequently stolen during a burglary.

Mr Roberts asked Spottiswood why he removed the bag of guns as the firearms did not have his fingerprints on them, according to his evidence.

The defendant replied that the wrapping and duct tape that Mr Bonner used for them came from the garage and so he could be linked to them.

Yesterday, Spottiswood said there was a problem with the Vauxhall Zafira he was driving on Saturday, July 8, and so this was swapped for his ex-police riot van when they went back to South Shields on the same day, and Mr Bonner then told him that he had some firearms in the van.

Today, Mr Roberts asked Spottiswood why Mr Bonner would want to bury the guns in Northumberland given that he did not have a proper home, would sometimes sleep at the garage the defendant ran in South Shields and did not have a roadworthy vehicle and a valid driving licence.

Spottiswood said Mr Bonner “was in a predicament” because Spottiswood needed to use the van and so he had to hide the guns somewhere quickly.

The defendant was also asked by Mr Roberts why he did not tell police about the guns during the interviews as the man who betrayed him would then be arrested by the police if he recovered.

Spottiswood said as well as not wanting to admit to anything that could potentially get him into trouble, as he was involved in the cannabis growing business he said “it would be unthinkable to grass him up” because of the reaction he would get from others in the business.

The trial continues.