'You are a good friend': Killer left flowers in tribute to John Littlewood as he tried to get away with murdering pal

“RIP John, you are a good friend to us and can’t get over it.”

Thursday, 13th May 2021, 5:14 pm
Updated Thursday, 13th May 2021, 5:15 pm

Signed “Marty and Tracey”, the note on a bunch of flowers were left on the doorstep of John Littlewood’s Blackhall Colliery home as news spread of his tragic death.

In truth, his “best friend” Marty Bates was responsible for brutally killing the dad in his bed at around 1am on Friday, July 26, 2019.

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Marty Bates, left, has been sentenced for the murder of his friend John Littlewood. He and his partner, who was cleared of the same charge, left flowers in tribute to their pal as news spread of his tragic death.
Marty Bates, left, has been sentenced for the murder of his friend John Littlewood. He and his partner, who was cleared of the same charge, left flowers in tribute to their pal as news spread of his tragic death.

CCTV has now released by Durham Constabulary shows bare-chested Bates walking home after carrying out the attack in the face of what the judge called his “determined denial” to accept responsibility.

Confirmation a murder investigation was under way came on Thursday, August 1, two days after the dad-of-two’s body was found and police established he died in suspicious circumstances.

In that time, as the body of the 36-year-old lay undiscovered inside his Third Street house, Bates, his unknowing partner Tracey Bunney, 46, and their friends Donna Balfour and James Nathan Riley spent their days socialising.

They went to an all-you-can-eat Chinese restaurant, played bingo in Peterlee and spent winnings on drink, with Teesside Crown Court told little was said between them of the events leading up to the fatal night.

Police on the scene on Third Street, Blackhall Colliery, as investigations were carried out to find the killer responsible for John Littlewood's death.

The evening before Mr Littlewood’s death, both men assaulted him before he asked them to leave his house, signalling to Tracey their friendships were over.

Bates left him with a wound above his eye after hearing Mr Littlewood claimed he had kidnapped him and beat him, while Riley kicked him in the head over money and word of a safe house.

After the trial Detective Superintendent Kevin Weir, who led the inquiry, said Bates had shown no remorse for his actions and there was no doubt his victim, known as John D, “suffered at the hands of his killer.”

The court case painted a picture of the chaotic lifestyle all five had been living.

Bates, 31, was said to have “blow outs”, taking up to 40 vallium pills and smoking crack cocaine, sending him “off the rails”, while the others – but not Bunney – also took drugs.

Bates and Tracey, of Tenth Street in the village, were charged with murder in September 2019 and went on trial in March following delays caused by the pandemic.

It was rocked when Bates, who protested his innocence in the witness box, went on to admit his crime days later.

Balfour, 36, of Ninth Street in the village, admitted perverting the course of justice – by interfering with a CCTV system at her home – after the trial began, sparking a second jury to be sworn in.

Her partner, James Riley, 31, of the same address, previously pleaded guilty to intending to pervert the course of justice, witness intimidation, and assault occasioning actual bodily harm.

They will be sentenced next month.

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