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Jury retires in Northumberland shallow grave murder trial

Mr Bonner joined Spottiswood on the family trip at Cresswell Towers Holiday Park.
Mr Bonner joined Spottiswood on the family trip at Cresswell Towers Holiday Park.

The jury has retired to consider a verdict in the trial of a garage boss accused of murdering his employee.

Darren Bonner’s naked body was found in a dug-out hole in woodland near the shore road between Lynemouth and Cresswell, 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, of Canterbury Way, Jarrow, denies murder.

Prosecutors claim the 34-year-old choked Mr Bonner, 24, after finding out that he had been ‘spying on him’ for a rival drug dealer and he later took Mr Bonner to the woodland area in the back of a former police riot van, dug a shallow grave and dumped him in the hole.

Timothy Roberts QC, prosecuting, also told the jury that the pair had apparently fallen out and during a conversation with a former girlfriend in the days before his body was found, Mr Bonner said ‘Spotty is gonna do me in’.

When Spottiswood was in the witness box at Newcastle Crown Court earlier this week, he said that he had up to a dozen cannabis farms at one point.

Spottiswood told the jury that he met Mr Bonner, who he considered a friend, after contacting him in November 2016 in order to buy some​ cannabis-growing equipment and he went on to employ Mr Bonner at the garage he ran in South Shields.

He said that Mr Bonner asked Spottiswood, who was on a three-night family trip to Cresswell Towers Holiday Park, if he could join them on Friday, July 7, the first night, Mr Bonner was in Newcastle at the time.

After Mr Bonner got a bus to Ashington and started walking towards the site, Spottiswood picked him up in the Lynemouth area.

According to the defendant, ‘there were no problems whatsoever’ between the two men during the weekend.

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

Spottiswood said in the early hours of Monday, July 10, they walked from the holiday park to a woodland area where Mr Bonner had previously dug a hole to hide the guns in and although both had been drinking alcohol, Mr Bonner had also taken cocaine.

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.

Spottiswood told the jury that after an exchange of words, Mr Bonner tried to grab the bag and after an initial struggle where he said he was unintentionally hit with the handle of a spade, he took the opportunity to put Mr Bonner in a headlock, saying: “It wasn’t about hurting him, it was about calming him down.”

He said he held it for about 20 seconds and let go when Mr Bonner suddenly “went heavy”.

Spottiswood said after opening Mr Bonner’s eyes and seeing that ‘nothing was happening’, he thought he was dead and he removed Mr Bonner’s clothing and shoes because he thought his blood may be on them from the spade injury.

He said later that morning, after packing up and leaving the holiday park, he stopped in a lay-by and retrieved the bag of guns and spade.

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.