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Accused denies intent to harm at Northumberland shallow grave murder trial

Mr Bonner joined Spottiswood on the family trip at Cresswell Towers Holiday Park.
Mr Bonner joined Spottiswood on the family trip at Cresswell Towers Holiday Park.

A garage boss on trial for murdering his employee has insisted that he only put him in a headlock to try to calm him down.

Darren Bonner’s naked body was found in a dug out hole in woodland near the shore road between Lynemouth and Cresswell, Northumberland, on July 10 last year.

He was taken to hospital, but died 16 days later after suffering irreversible brain damage due to his brain being starved of oxygen and blood.

Richard Spottiswood, of Canterbury Way, Jarrow, denies murder, saying that he acted in self-defence.

During today’s proceedings at Newcastle Crown Court, the 34-year-old was in the witness box and said that he had up to a dozen cannabis farms at one point.

Spottiswood told the jury that he met Mr Bonner, who he considered a friend, after contacting him in November 2016 in order to buy some​ cannabis-growing equipment and he went on to employ Mr Bonner at the garage he ran in South Shields.

Mr Bonner asked Spottiswood, who was on a three-night family trip to Cresswell Towers Holiday Park, if he could join them on Friday, July 7, the first night, and after getting a bus to Ashington and walking towards the site, Spottiswood picked him up in the Lynemouth area.

According to the defendant, “there were no problems whatsoever” between the two men during the weekend.

He said there was a problem with the Vauxhall Zafira he was driving and so this was swapped for his ex-police riot van when they went back to South Shields on the Saturday, and Mr Bonner then told him that he had some firearms in the van.

Spottiswood said in the early hours of Monday, July 10, they walked from the holiday park to a woodland area where Mr Bonner had previously dug a hole to hide the guns in and although both had been drinking alcohol, Mr Bonner had also taken cocaine.

He said the atmosphere changed when Mr Bonner said he was now not sure if he should bury the bag with the guns inside and mentioned a rival dealer.

“I asked him if he had been spying on me because I knew someone had been but I couldn’t put my​ finger on it,” Spottiswood said.

“I thought it was someone else. He said no, but I knew he was lying.”

“I said I wanted him out of the garage, pack his stuff and that was the end of it.

“He got quite angry, he said he wasn’t walking away with nothing. I told him he would get what he was owed but I wanted him out and I didn’t want to see him, I told him I thought he was playing both sides.”

He then said Mr Bonner tried to grab the bag and after an initial struggle where he said he was unintentionally hit with the handle of a spade, he took the opportunity to put Mr Bonner in a headlock, saying: “It wasn’t about hurting him, it was about calming him down.”

He said he held it for about 20 seconds and let go when Mr Bonner suddenly “went heavy”.

The defendant stated that he got his phone out to shine a light on Mr Bonner’s face, which “was like a blue and white and his tongue had swelled up”.

Spottiswood said after opening Mr Bonner’s eyes and seeing that “nothing was happening”, he thought he was dead and he removed Mr Bonner’s clothing and shoes because he thought his blood may be on them from the spade injury.

He said later that morning, after packing up and leaving the holiday park, he stopped in a lay-by and retrieved the bag of guns and spade.

When asked what happened to the guns, Spottiswood claims they were placed in a car in his garage, which was subsequently stolen during a burglary.

Spottiswood was arrested on suspicion of attempted murder two days after Mr Bonner was found.

He said he told police when interviewed that he knew nothing about the hole or why Mr Bonner ended up there was because he expected Mr Bonner would recover and then not tell police about the headlock because Mr Bonner would have to explain the firearms and everything else he was involved in.

Spottiswood also said that after he was charged with murder as a result of Mr Bonner dying, he realised he would have to admit that he walked with Mr Bonner to the hole and that he put him in a headlock.