A man was brutally bludgeoned to death after unfounded rumors that he had accused the thug who attacked him of killing James Bulger.
John Littlewood, 36, suffered fatal head injuries while lying in bed at his home in Blackhall Colliery, County Durham.
Marty Bates initially denied murdering him, but later changed his plea to guilty during his trial at Teesside Crown Court.
The 31-year-old, also from Blackhall, was sentenced to a minimum of 24 years in prison.
Another man, James Riley, also 31, who was involved in the attack, confessed to conspiracy to distort the course of justice and witnessed harassment and was sentenced to 42 months in prison.
John Littlewood, 36, suffered fatal head injuries while lying in bed at his home in Blackhall Colliery, County Durham
At his sentencing today, Teesside Crown Court heard how the violent attack stemmed from “totally untrue” claims Bates made against Mr. Littlewood had submitted.
It was heard that Bates had told Riley while drinking that Mr Littlewood, who was known to the men, had accused him of being one of the men responsible for the infamous murder of Liverpudlian toddler James Bulger.
However, Riley himself was only three years old when Bulger was kidnapped and murdered by Robert Thompson and Jon Venables.
Gregory Bull QC, defending Riley, said it was this accusation that fueled the violence at Mr Littlewood’s home in July 2019.
“Bates created a situation where Riley, a man of low intelligence, overreacted to a situation; he too had been drinking, he too was drunk.
‘He went to Mr. Littlewood’s house after hearing from Bates that the deceased was spreading a rumor that he was one of James Bulger’s killers – that was not true at all, caused much offense and seemed to have some belief that my client comes from Liverpool,” he said.
Teesside Crown Court heard the violent attack erupted from ‘totally untrue’ allegations made by Marty Bates (left) against Mr Littlewood, who he said claimed James Riley (right) was one of the men responsible for the infamous murder on James Bulger in 1993
Bull said Bates and Riley’s attack on Mr. Littlewood left him covered in blood before they left his house.
The court also learned that Riley was not present when Bates dealt the fatal blows to Mr. Littlewood’s head.
Riley, of Ninth Street, Blackhall previously pleaded guilty to intent to distort the course of justice, witness intimidation, and a further count of assault which actually caused bodily harm in connection with a separate incident when he struck Mr. Littlewood in the head and kicked.
His partner, Donna Balfour, 36, pleaded guilty to disrupting justice by interfering with a CCTV system in her home to try to remove footage.
Richard Wright QC Prosecutor said Riley and Balfour had turned off CCTV at their home to allow Bates and his partner Tracey Bunney, who was acquitted of murder in April, to leave the premises and go to the nearby home of the accused. Mr Littlewood to go.
Mr Wright said several days after the murder, the two men and women returned to the victim’s home and found him dead.
Gregory Bull QC, defending Riley, said it was the false rumors against Riley that ignited the violence at Mr Littlewood’s home in July 2019.
Hours later, Riley threatened to “kill” a neighbor if she cooperated with the police during the murder investigation.
Judge Paul Watson, QC, Middlesbrough’s recorder, sentenced Riley to a total of 42 months in prison and Balfour to 29 months.
The judge said: “Obviously you, Bates and Littlewood, along with the two women, had been drinking in the house for some time and there was some suggestion of drug use.
“There was an argument about something trivial, and during that argument you attacked Mr. Littlewood by punching him in the face and then kicking him in full blood on the head.”
The judge added: “I am pleased you knew that Mr Bates was going to Mr Littlewood’s house to correct an alleged disdain from earlier in the day.
“I’m very pleased that you knew there would be some level of violence, but I fully accept that you had no idea that he would use the violence that he did, and indeed kill.”
After the hearing, Mr. Littlewood’s mother, Pamela Hall, paid tribute to her son, who was also known as John D.
She said, ‘The fact that he was killed was bad enough’ [but] this person could have taken responsibility from the day he was arrested, which would have prevented us from listening to the final moments of John D’s life during the trial.
“This was excruciating at times and no words can explain the pain and torture I endured.
“There are no words to describe the pain we all feel, but we hope that the justice served will hopefully bring us some comfort, knowing that the person responsible for my son’s murder cannot harm anyone else.”