A garage boss has been found guilty by a jury of murdering his employee near a Northumberland coastal village.
Darren Bonner’s naked body was found in a dug-out hole in woodland near the shore road between Lynemouth and Cresswell, 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, was told by Judge Stephen Ashurst at Newcastle Crown Court this afternoon that he will receive a sentence of life imprisonment.
The judge added that he is required to set out a minimum period and so the sentencing will happen at a later date once he has heard submissions from the prosecution and defence.
At an earlier trial, which collapsed at the half-way point, Spottiswood’s girlfriend, Lucy Burn, 30, of Burns Close, South Shields, who had originally been jointly charged with Mr Bonner’s murder, was cleared over the killing.
She pleaded guilty to a charge of assisting an offender in relation to the murder and she will be sentenced at the same hearing.
Outlining the prosecution case during the trial, Timothy Roberts QC said that the 34-year-old choked Mr Bonner, 24, after finding out that he had been ‘spying on him’ for a rival drug dealer and he later took Mr Bonner to the woodland area in the back of a former police riot van, dug a shallow grave and dumped him in the hole.
The barrister also said that the pair had apparently fallen out and during a conversation with a former girlfriend in the days before his body was found, Mr Bonner said ‘Spotty is gonna do me in’.
The jury heard that at 7.46am on July 10, Spottiswood is captured on CCTV leaving the holiday park in the white transit van and travelling south along the shore road, passing the Golden Sands Holiday Park.
Eight minutes later, the van is caught on camera travelling north back past Golden Sands, before turning around and heading back south to South Shields.
A Berghaus jacket, a blue Nike hoody, a pair of North Face jogging trousers, a grey T-Shirt and a pair of Nike trainers, all believed to belong to Mr Bonner, were found in Spottiswood’s van after he was arrested.
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.
He said that 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, Mr Bonner was in Newcastle at the time.
After Mr Bonner got a bus to Ashington and started 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.
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.
Spottiswood told the jury that after an exchange of words, 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”.
Spottiswood said after opening Mr Bonner’s eyes and seeing that ‘nothing was happening’, he thought he was dead and so he left him in that area.
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 a 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.
The jury heard from cleaners at Cresswell Towers Holiday park during the trial, who described the caravan Spottiswood stayed in as a mess.
They said there was grass all over the floor and seats and, although finding grass was not unusual, they found mud on the bed sheets.
The jury had retired on Thursday afternoon and Mr Ashurst thanked them for their deliberations and attention to detail in what was an extremely serious case.
Following the verdict, Detective Chief Inspector Andy Fairlamb, from Northumbria Police, said: “This has been a tragic time for Darren Bonner’s family and my thoughts go out to them. I absolutely have to commend their bravery throughout this ordeal.
“Even after Spottiswood admitted to choking Darren, he has continued to go on and defend his actions, claiming it was an accident.
“The fact that Darren was left in such a critical condition – barely breathing and lying in a shallow grave – absolutely shows how truly cold and despicable Spottiswood is.
“Darren was only 24 years old when his life was cruelly cut short and he will be greatly missed by his family and friends.”
John Brennan of the Crown Prosecution Service said: “In an attempt to hide what he had done, Spottiswood drove Darren to a shallow grave he had prepared in nearby undergrowth, where he left him naked to die.
“Had it not been for a passing member of the public later that morning, he may never have been found.
“Throughout the investigation and prosecution of this case, Spottiswood has made every attempt to evade justice for Darren’s murder, but the CPS and Police have worked closely to build a very robust case against him.
“By piecing together significant amounts of CCTV, mobile phone records, eyewitness accounts and forensic evidence, we have been able to clearly show the means by which he took Darren’s life and also his failed attempt to hide what he had done.
“I sincerely hope that the conviction provides some small measure of comfort to the family of Darren Bonner at what must be an incredibly difficult time for them.”