Four jailed over death of disabled man brutally beaten and left 'looking like elephant man'

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Four people have been jailed over the shocking death of a disabled man who was kept confined to a house and regularly beaten.

Vulnerable Lee Irving's body was pushed 800 meters through the streets in a child's buggy and dumped in a field in June last year after he died as a result of a series of shocking beatings that left him with 27 separate rib fractures.

The tragic 24-year-old, who had learning difficulties and profound impairment of intellectual function, had his injuries photographed, was drugged and had his bank account raided before his slow and agonising death.

Mr Irving had been living at a house in Studdon Walk, Kenton, Newcastle, with his friend James Wheatley, 29, Wheatley's mother Julie Mills, 51, Wheatley's girlfriend Nicole Lawrence, 21, and lodger Barry Imray, 35, when he died.

After a trial at Newcastle Crown Court Wheatley was convicted of Mr Irving's murder, which he denied throughout.

Mr Justice Soole branded Wheatley a "vicious and brutal bully" and a "coward" and sentenced him to life imprisonment.

The judge said Wheatley as "prone to sudden and explosive acts of sustained violence" and ordered him to serve a minimum of 23 years before he can apply for parole.

The judge told him: "You directed these in particular towards Lee Irving, in the knowledge that he looked up to you and would not resist or react."

The court heard one of the assaults inflicted by Wheatley, which caused 21 rib fractures, was with force "akin to a car crash in circumstances where a seat belt was not being worn".

Wheatley's mother Mills was jailed for eight years.

Justice Soole said she and her son were the "dominant figures" in the abusive household and said she showed a "callous indifference" to Mr Irving's suffering.

Wheatley's girlfriend Lawrence was jailed for four years.

The judge said her "only concern" during Mr Irving's suffering was "to protect James Wheatley".

Imray, who moved Mr Irving's body to where it was dumped, was jailed for three years.

The judge told Imray, who also has learning difficulties and is vulnerable: "I have no doubt that the plan and your actions were instigated and pressed on you by James Wheatley and Julie Mills."

The women had been found guilty of causing or allowing the death of a vulnerable adult and conspiracy to pervert the course of justice. They had denied both charges.

Imray was cleared of murder and manslaughter but convicted of causing or allowing the death of a vulnerable adult, which he had denied. He had already pleaded guilty to perverting the course of justice.

At the end of the case the judge commended detectives and investigators involved in the case and then paid tribute to Mr Irving's family, who packed the public gallery throughout the nine week trial.

The judge told them: "There will be very few words. No words can be adequate to express my deep sympathy for the family of Lee Irving in their terrible loss.

"I simply hope that the bringing of these defendants to justice may provide some comfort to the family in their continued distress."

Tragic Mr Irving had suffered 27 separate rib fractures, multiple bruising, abrasion and lacerations and a broken jaw and nose.

He had been in a "severely injured state" for a period of nine days before his death, with blood seeping right through the mattress he had been lying on.

Mr Smith told the court at an earlier hearing: "He had been severely beaten on at least two different occasions before he had eventually died as a result of

the various injuries that had been inflicted upon him.

"They had been caused by a combination of punching, stamping and kicking."

Mr Smith added: "The injuries amount, in any view, to a truly shocking pattern of violence which can only have caused him severe pain and which any responsible adult in that household would have realised required urgent admission to hospital.

"In fact, they didn't do anything to help, other than sedate him with medication to serve their own interests and ensure he did not leave the house and come to the attention of the authorities."

During a series of sickening text messages weeks before the death, Wheatley referred to Mr Irving as the "backwardest b*****d I have ever seen" and said he had attacked him because he wet his bed.

On May 28 last year Wheatley had sent a message to his girlfriend Lawrence saying, "I've smashed Lee all over, you should see his face, my God, p****d the bed, Im foaming, I am."

Wheatley said in another message to her "you should see what I've done to him, he's not making me look like a mug, cant believe he's p****d the bed".

In a Facebook message on May 29 last year, Wheatley's mother Mills told a friend her house was like a "bloodbath" and said Mr Irving looked like the "elephant man" after the violence.

Mills complained in her messages that Mr Irving living at the house was costing her £100 per week in electricity for 'showers, clothes, telly' while he was staying there and complained he was dragging her son down.

Mills referred to Mr Irving as a "dog" in a text message to Lawrence and claimed, "Lee plays on he's daft".

The court heard Mr Irving had been ordered to keep out of the way when police called to the house on May 29 last year, following a disturbance between the mother and son.

It was early on June 6 last year Imray pushed Lee's body to a field in a buggy and then called the emergency services, claiming to have found it.

Mr Smith said after Mr Irving's death, the four others at the house decided the truth of what happened at the house should be concealed, which is why he was moved and the property cleaned up.

The court heard because of his vulnerabilities, which made him a target for bullies all of his life, Mr Irving would have submitted to violence inflicted on him and been easily persuaded to swallow the paracetamol and morphine found in his bloodstream when he died.

The court heard photographs of Mr Irving, alive but badly injured, were found on mobile phones linked to Mills and Lawrence.