LiveBlackhall murder trial RECAP - John Littlewood's on-off partner tells court of moment she found his body

A jury is continuing to hear evidence in a murder trial over the death of Blackhall Colliery dad John Littlewood.

Wednesday, 17th March 2021, 4:51 pm

The 36-year-old was found dead inside a house in Third Street in the village on Tuesday, July 30, 2019.

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

The prosecution has alleged that the father was killed in his own bed in a hammer attack by people who were known to him.

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Trial into the murder of John Littlewood is continuing at Teesside Crown Court
Trial into the murder of John Littlewood is continuing at Teesside Crown Court

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.

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

Scroll down for updates.

Blackhall murder trial LIVE updates

Last updated: Thursday, 18 March, 2021, 16:50

Case to resume next week

Proceedings have now ended for today and will begin again on Monday.

The officer asked Ms Muir about other individuals, ‘Billy and Joyce’, and whether there was any dispute with them.

She says she wasn’t aware of any issues until after Mr Littlewood died.

The police officer mentioned an assault by Billy on Mr Littlewood at a caravan. Ms Muir replied and said it might have been mentioned and she heard Billy had hit him.

Ms Muir told police she cannot describe the man known as “Scouse”, other than he had dark hair and a Liverpool accent. She met him twice. She also tells police she could not describe his girlfriend.

Partner ‘screamed’ when she realised John Littlewood was dead

The police interview has moved onto what happened on the night of the Tuesday when she found his body.

She went to the house and she got in through the unlocked door.

She screamed when realised he was dead and left, while another woman went into the house while the emergency services were called.

She was later allowed to leave and later asked to go to the police station to speak to police.

Defendants asked partner if she had seen John Littlewood in days after his death

Ms Muir told police the defenants asked her if she had seen Mr Littlewood, because they said they hadn't in the days after his death.

Bunney and Bates had spoken to her and Bunney said Bates and Mr Littlewood had a fallout on the Thursday, but it wasn't said what that was about.

This chat might have happened on the Monday night, Ms Muir told police in interview.

During another conversation while she was out shopping, possibly on the Tuesday, someone told her no one had seen Mr Littlewood.

Her concerns grew and she felt "she really needed to go". She asked Balfour if she could take her up to his. In one conversation, it was said Bates had lost his phone.

Ms Muir unaware John Littlewood had been assaulted

Ms Muir was asked in her police interview about what as ongoing in the house and where Mr Littlewood had gone.

She said she wasn't sure how long he was away for.

When asked about the conversation in the house she told police she didn't know anything of it. She said she wasn't aware of him being assaulted on that Thursday.

Bunney told police Ms Muir was there, but she says everything she knew about that was down to what others had told her afterwards.

Defendants ‘argued often’

Ms Muir told police she knew Tracey Bunney because she had previously gone out with Ms Muir's nephew.

She said Bunney and Bates were together all the time.

Describing a car journey with Mr Littlewood, Bunney and Bates in the days before Mr Littlewood’s death Ms Muir said there had been an ‘atmosphere’ and they all went into a house.

Mr Littlewood, in her view, had too much to drink. She said she was going to have one drink, get her stuff and leave.

Bunney and Bates were arguing, possibly about seeing someone else or something in the past. She says they argued often.

Mr Littlewood was moving from room to room and someone called "Scouse" turned up. Mr Littlewood had been out the front talking to someone and he came back in and she started to gather her things. She says they were having a "daft carry on" and there had been efforts to calm things down. She called a taxi and waited outside.

Victim’s relationship with drink and drugs mentioned in police interview

Police asked her in her interview about her relationship with Mr Littlewood and she explained how he had moved from drinking cans to vodka and would at times "drink until he couldn't stand".

She has also said he would take a line of cocaine from time to time and once did it in front of her son, who said he didn't want Mr Littlewood to visit their home if he was to do that.

She said he had also had pills, which she did not like, and that was something she didn't want her family near. She remarked his "personality completely changed."

Partner describes moment she found John Littlewood’s body

Ms Muir has said she found Mr Littlewood in bed in one of the rooms upstairs and she "screamed" and went out to see neighbours, who then raised the alarm with the emergency services.

Donna Balfour was with her and Donna noted the unpleasant smell in the house. They said at the scene until they were told they could leave.

Partner says she had ‘a feeling something wasn’t right’ in police interview

Ms Muir has described seeing John Littlewood on the Thursday day time and how he had been slurring his speech, they had a disagreement about him taking pills.

She saw him with other people, include Bunney, when he had been drinking vodka. In the days after, she could not reach him and she became worried, thinking his phone might be broken.

Ms Muir has described how she had a "feeling in the pit of my stomach something wasn't right."

She had been missing Mr Littlewood and wanted to know he was ok. She had got a lift round to his home and had written him a letter in case he wasn't in.

Jury set to hear from John Littlewood’s partner

The defendants and the jury have been brought into court for this afternoon's proceedings. This will be the last sitting of the hearing this week.

The jury are to hear evidence from Julie Muir, who had been in a relationship with Mr Littlewood. Her interview recorded by police is to be played. It was taken close to the time of his death, in September 2019.

There are three defendants facing trial in the case:

Marty Bates, 31, of Tenth Street, Blackhall, is accused of killing Mr Littlewood, known as John D, on July 26 in 2019.

Bates’ partner Tracey Bunney, 45, is jointly accused of murder. Bunney is accused of helping him and the prosecution say she “shares joint legal responsibility for the killing”.

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

All three deny the charges against them.

What the jury was told yesterday

John Littlewood was beaten to death, probably with a hammer, in his house in Blackhall Colliery, Teesside Crown Court was told on Tuesday as the prosecution began to outline the case.

The 36-year-old died as a result of head injuries. The jury was told he was not found until four days later when his on-off partner went round after not hearing from him.

The jury heard Mr Littlewood had formed casual friendships with the defendants in the weeks before he died and they were said to be regular visitors to his home.

Richard Wright QC for the prosecution told the court: “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.”

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