Man killed over false rumours thug who attacked him was Bulger killer

Man was beaten to death as he slept after being falsely accused of spreading rumours the thug who attacked him had killed James Bulger, court hears

  • John Littlewood was beaten to death in bed at his home in Blackhall, Co Durham 
  • Court heard he was attacked by friends Marty Bates and James Riley, both 31
  • It was claimed Bates had spread false rumour Mr Littlewood was claiming Riley was one of James Bulger’s killers
  • The pair went to his house and attacked him while he was sleeping but Bates was one who delivered a fatal blow with a hammer
  •  Bates pled guilty to murder and was sentenced to a minimum of 24 years

A man was brutally bludgeoned to death over unfounded rumours he had accused the thug who attacked him of killing James Bulger.

John Littlewood, 36, suffered fatal head injuries while he was 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 jailed for a minimum of 24 years.

Another man, James Riley, also 31, who was involved in the attack admitted to conspiracy to pervert the course of justice and witness intimidation and was jailed for 42 months.

John Littlewood, 36, suffered fatal head injuries while he was in bed at his home in Blackhall Colliery, County Durham

At his sentencing today, Teesside Crown Court heard how the violent assault erupted out of ‘wholly untrue’ claims that Bates had levelled against Mr Littlewood.

It was heard that while drinking, Bates had told Riley that Mr Littlewood, who was known to the men, had accused him of being one of the men responsible for the notorious murder of Liverpool toddler James Bulger.

However, Riley himself was only three years old when Bulger was abducted and killed by Robert Thompson and Jon Venables.

Gregory Bull QC, defending for Riley, said that it was this accusation that ignited the violence in 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 attended the home of Mr Littlewood having been told by Bates that the deceased was spreading a rumour that he was one of the killers of James Bulger – that was wholly untrue, caused great offence and seemed to have some credence that my client comes from Liverpool,’ he said.


Teesside Crown Court heard how the violent assault erupted out of ‘wholly untrue’ claims that Marty Bates (left) had levelled against Mr Littlewood, who he claimed had alleged James Riley (right) was one of men who responsible for the notorious murder of James Bulger in 1993 

Mr Bull said Bates and Riley’s attack on Mr Littlewood left him covered in blood before they exited his home.

The court also heard how Riley was not present when Bates delivered the fatal blows to Mr Littlewood’s head.

Riley, of Ninth Street, Blackhall previously pleaded guilty to intending to pervert the course of justice, witness intimidation, and a further count of assault occasioning actual bodily harm in relation to a separate incident when he punched and kicked Mr Littlewood to the head.

His partner, Donna Balfour, 36, pleaded guilty to perverting the course of justice by interfering with a CCTV system at her home to attempt to delete footage. 

Richard Wright QC, prosecuting, said Riley and Balfour had switched off the CCTV at their home to enable Bates and his partner Tracey Bunney, who was cleared of murder in April, to leave the property and make their way to Mr Littlewood’s nearby home.

Mr Wright said several days after the murder the two men and women returned to the victim’s house and found him deceased.

Gregory Bull QC, defending for Riley, said that it was the false rumours against Riley that ignited the violence in Mr Littlewood’s home in July 2019

Several hours later Riley threatened to ‘kill’ a neighbour if she co-operated with the police during the murder investigation.

Judge Paul Watson QC, the Recorder of Middlesbrough, sentenced Riley to a total of 42 months in prison and Balfour to 29 months.

The judge said: ‘It clear that you, Bates and Littlewood, along with the two women, had been in the house for some time drinking and there was some suggestion of drug taking.

‘There was an argument over something trivial and during the course of that argument you attacked Mr Littlewood by, first of all, punching him to the face and then following up with a full-blooded kick to the head.’

The judge added: ‘I’m satisfied that you knew that Mr Bates was going to Mr Littlewood’s house to correct some perceived slight from earlier in the day.

‘I’m quite satisfied that you knew there would be a measure of violence but I accept entirely that you had no idea that he would use the level of violence that he did, and indeed go on to kill.’

Speaking 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 he was murdered was bad enough [but] this person could have taken responsibility from the day he was arrested, which would have prevented us having to listen to the final moments of John D’s life at the trial.

‘This has been unbearable at times and no words can explain the pain and torture that I have gone through.

‘There are no words to describe the pain, which we all feel, but we hope that the justice served will hopefully give us some comfort knowing the person responsible for the murder of my son can’t harm anyone else.’

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