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Pathologist gives evidence at Northumberland shallow grave murder trial

Darren Bonner's naked body was found in woodland in an open, dug out, shallow grave near the shore road between Lynemouth and Cresswell.
Darren Bonner's naked body was found in woodland in an open, dug out, shallow grave near the shore road between Lynemouth and Cresswell.

A forensic pathologist has been speaking at the trial of a garage boss accused of murdering his employee at Newcastle Crown Court today.

Darren Bonner’s naked body was found in woodland in an open, dug out, shallow grave 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.

Although Richard Spottiswood, 34, of Canterbury Way, Jarrow, admitted in a statement that he got Mr Bonner in a headlock during an argument, he denies murder, saying that he acted in self-defence.

Home Office​ pathologist, Dr Mark Egan, was among the witnesses called by the prosecution to give evidence.

He examined Mr Bonner’s body in hospital on the day he was found and conducted a post-mortem on him after he died.

He said his findings indicate that Mr Bonner was fatally assaulted by pressure being applied to the neck.

Mr Bonner’s other injuries included what Dr Egan described as blows to the back from a “rod-shaped weapon”.

During cross-examination, defending barrister Andrew Hall said that officers were traditionally trained to use the headlock to restrain offenders and prisoners.

Dr Egan agreed with his statement that accidental deaths as a result of the manoeuvre was the main reason why police are no longer trained in the technique.

The pathologist also said yes when Mr Hall said: “Richard Spottiswood says he applied pressure to Darren​ Bonner, who had been drinking and taking drugs, on his neck and he​ collapsed quickly. Is your conclusion and findings entirely consistent​ ​with that?”

Dr Egan also confirmed that he was unable to state whether the headlock was applied offensively or defensively.

The barrister asked him if it was correct to say that he can’t be certain the bruises on Mr Bonner’s back were inflicted at the same time or on the same day as the neck injuries because of the agreed difficulty in the medical procession of accurately assessing bruises.

He replied: “They could be 24 hours or, at a push, 48 hours old.”

Forensic archaeologist Dr Karl Harrison was also in the witness box this afternoon. He examined the hole where Mr Bonner was found.

When asked how long it would take one man with one spade to dig a hole of that size – it was measured at 1.4m long, 0.8m wide and 0.6m deep – he estimated that a physically-able man would be able to do it within one hour.