Walker led police to dying man in shallow grave after hearing 'snoring' sounds, court told

Mr Bonner's body was found in a freshly dug grave, covered with tree roots.
Mr Bonner's body was found in a freshly dug grave, covered with tree roots.

A walker led police to a dying man who had been dumped in a shallow grave after he heard "snoring" sounds coming from remote woodland, murder jurors have heard.

Darren Bonner's naked body was found in a freshly dug hole among trees behind a dry-stone wall, on Shore Road, Northumberland, with irreversible brain damage
that led to his death last July.

Newcastle Crown Court heard Richard Spottiswood, who ran a garage business Mr Bonner worked at, believed he had been "double crossed" by the 24-year-old, from Sunderland, and had deliberately "choked the life from him" during a confrontation.

Mr Bonner died in hospital 16 days after his fatally injured body was found.

Spottiswood, 34, of Canterbury Way, Jarrow, denies murder and is being tried by a jury.

The court heard police found Mr Bonner in the woodland after Watson Cowton was alerted to strange sounds during his daily walk on July 10.

Mr Cowton told the court: "I heard what I thought at first was very, very loud snoring noises.

"I found it strange at first but when I thought about it, I am used to seeing rough sleepers, hitch-hikers and campers. I put it down to someone perhaps resting for the night."

He told jurors the noises were "quite loud" and added: "In fact, I would almost say extremely loud. I was on the opposite side of the road and I am rather hard of hearing."

Mr Cowton said he crossed the road to the side where the sound was coming from and shouted "hello, hello" into the woodland but got no reply.

He added: "At that time, I didn't have any concrete evidence that something was amiss so decided to carry on with my walk to Cresswell village."

Mr Cowton told the court he heard the same sounds again on his return journey, past the same spot, so stepped into a gap in the wall to investigate further.

He said: "I seem to remember I put my hands on the wall. I shouted 'hello, hello, is anyone there?'. The noises were intermittent.

"The noises stopped. I stepped across onto a small rock, in between two large ones. In the short space of time I was there, I didn't hear any sound whatsoever.

"I came back onto the layby. I believe I may have been in the process of crossing the road to return to my home when the noises started up again.

"At that point I decided perhaps there was something amiss and then I telephoned the police."

The court heard Mr Bonner was taken to hospital after police arrived at the scene and found him in the grave.

He died 16 days later, without regaining consciousness.

Mr Bonner died because his brain had been starved of blood an oxygen, which led to extensive brain damage, jurors heard.

He also had marks on his back, which Tim Roberts said was "at least 12 blows from a rod-shaped weapon".

Spottiswood told police told detectives during questioning that the hole had been dug for him and Mr Bonner to bury firearms.

He claimed an argument had broken out while they were there because he was suspicious Mr Bonner had "betrayed him to a rival drug dealer".

He said during the course of the exchange, Mr Bonner had confessed he had revealed the location of a cannabis crop to the rival, who had gone on to steal it.

Spottiswood said during the row, Mr Bonner had grabbed for the bag of guns and so he got him in a a headlock during a struggle, in self defence.

He said he had removed Mr Bonner's clothes in "panic".

Mr Roberts said prosecutors reject the suggestion of self defence.

He told jurors: "He knew exactly what he was doing, there and then he caused the irreversible brain damage which led to death.

"Mr Spottiswood, the prosecution contend, wasn't acting in reasonable and necessary self defence. He was deliberately choking the life from someone he trusted but had double crossed him."