Killer who left Sunderland man Darren Bonner to die in a shallow grave has sentence reduced
A murderer who left his victim dying in a ditch has lost his appeal against his conviction.
Garage boss and cannabis farmer Richard Spottiswood “choked the life” from Darren Bonner in a Northumberland caravan and left him naked in a nearby shallow grave after accusing his employee of leaking information to a rival drug dealer.
Mr Bonner, 24, from Sunderland, was discovered by a walker and died in hospital 16 days later on July 26, 2017, from irreversible brain damage after never regaining consciousness.
Spottiswood, 34, of Canterbury Way, Jarrow, was jailed for life after he was convicted by a jury in 2018 of murder following a two-week trial at Newcastle Crown Court.
His girlfriend, Lucy Burn, then 30, of Burns Close, South Shields, was locked up for 30 months after admitting assisting an offender.
The pair left Cresswell Towers holiday park, near Druridge Bay, after the attack and lied about their involvement when they were eventually quizzed by police three days later.
Spottiswood insisted he had only held Mr Bonner in a headlock in “lawful self-defence” after they rowed and later won the right to take his case to the Court of Appeal.
His defence team argued in London that trial judge Stephen Ashurst had “risked inflaming the emotions of the jury” by permitting evidence about the killer attacking a prison officer in a similar manner in 2010.
The Court of Appeal was told “that it introduced obvious and unacceptable prejudice into the trial” and “bolstered a weak prosecution case”.
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Yet three judges have now rejected the killer’s appeal against his conviction and insisted that the Judge Ashurst had given the jury appropriate directions “limiting the potential relevance of this material”.
Spottiswood, however, did win a slight reduction in the 22-year minimum tariff imposed upon him as part of his life sentence.
After identifying the starting point for the offence as 15 years behind bars, Judge Ashurst eventually added another seven years after outlining “aggravating factors” such as concealing Mr Bonner’s body and feigning concern for him after he was arrested by police.
The Court of Appeal judges ruled that “together or separately” they did not warrant a seven-year increase and reduced the minimum term Spottiswood must serve to 20 years.
They concluded: “The degrading circumstances, the appellant’s selfishness in leaving a man in a shallow who was alive, the attempt to avoid detection, the involvement of his partner to cover up the crime and his criminal background were all in themselves serious features.
“But, as we have just observed, they did not justify a minimum term of 22 years.”
After the pair’s conviction, Mr Bonner’s mother, Louise Tumilty, said her son was a "lovely, friendly, character" who was easily led.