Man found dead in wheelie bin was killed over unfounded Facebook rumours he was a sex offender

Paul Watkins was jailed for life for murder, with a recommendation he serves at least 18 years.
Paul Watkins was jailed for life for murder, with a recommendation he serves at least 18 years.

A man with learning difficulties was killed in his own home and his body dumped in a wheelie bin over unfounded Facebook rumours that he was a sex offender.

Tragic Craig Eade had become a target in his community and had already been hospitalised in an earlier attack over online allegations, which he denied.

Newcastle Crown Court heard serial criminal Paul Watkins lured the vulnerable 23-year-old to his home in Gateshead in February, where he plied him with crack cocaine, attacked him with a hammer, kicked and stamped on him, then strangled him until he thought he was dead.

While the 36-year-old was wrapping up Mr Eade's body in bedding and binding his arms and legs with cable ties, he realised his victim was still alive.

So he got a steak knife from the kitchen and severed his jugular vein with a single stab wound to the neck.

Watkins left Mr Eade's remains in his flat for more than a day before dumping the body in a wheelie bin.

When Watkins was arrested for burgling his neighbour's flat later that day he confessed to police "I've killed someone" and told them where to find the body.

In a victim statement, Mr Eade's mother Sharon branded Watkins "inhuman", and told how her son had survived a brain tumour as a boy, which left him with lifelong problems and vulnerabilities.

Mrs Eade said her "whole world collapsed" when she was told Craig was dead, and said the whole family will never be the same.

She said: "In Craig's last living moments he was tortured, then disposed of like a piece of rubbish. No one should die like he did.

"For us, no sentence could ever be enough for the lifetime of pain and hurt we have to face. I hope my son can rest in peace now.

"At least I know where he is, with the knowledge that no one can hurt him or take advantage of him any more. Our lives will never be complete again."

Watkins, of Northbourne Street, Deckham, Gateshead, admitted murder as well as burglary and an unrelated charge of possessing class A drugs with intent in relation to 15 wraps of diamorphine he was 'warehousing' for a dealer.

He asked for five further offences, including burglary and robbery, to be taken into consideration by the judge.

Judge Paul Sloan QC gave Watkins a life sentence, and said he must serve a minimum of 18 years behind bars before he can apply for parole.

The judge said: "In the period immediately preceding his death, rumours were circulating that Mr Eade had committed a sexual offence.

"The attack was brutal and sustained, repeated. It involved the use of weapons, namely a hammer and a knife, as well as a weapon equivalent, namely feet, kicking and stamping.

"The offence involved you taking the law into your own hands, taking it upon yourself to deliver retribution, which you had no justification."

Prosecutor Jolyon Perks told the court the killing happened in February, when Facebook rumours about Mr Eade were rife.

He said: "Prior to his death, there had been a number of postings on Facebook, making allegations against him. As a consequence, there were a number of responses, indicating that people were looking to confront him."

The court heard Mr Eade ended up in hospital as a result of an attack at the end of February, where he was assaulted by a number of men.

As he made his way home from the hospital, he was forced to run and hide when a group of men, who had been looking for him, approached him in a car.

There is no suggestion Watkins was involved in either episode.

Watkins, who did not know Mr Eade well, told police the rumours had made him "up a height", so he planned to lure him to his flat, give him cocaine then confront him.

He said he had not set out to murder Mr Eade and had originally planned to just "hurt him a bit".

Toby Hedworth, defending, said the killing was "needless" and Watkins is now "mortified" at what he did.

He added: "He acknowledges he got Mr Eade to come to his flat to confront him and speak to him.

"There was, swirling around in the area at the time, suggestions of various things Mr Eade was supposed to have done."

Mr Hedworth said Watkins was completely unaware of Mr Eade's personal difficulties, and had been straightforward and candid with the investigation.

After he was jailed for life, Watkins gave a thumbs up as he was led away to begin his sentence.

Detective Chief Inspector Andy Fairlamb, who led the murder investigation, welcomed the outcome, but said inquiries are still continuing in relation to Mr Eade's death.

He said: "We welcome the sentence handed down by the court today and we hope this gives Craig's family some sense of justice.

"However, I want to make it clear that this investigation will continue, and while Watkins has admitted to killing Craig, we want to establish the exact circumstances of that evening.

"Watkins' guilty plea has been accepted, but we are still trying to establish the whole incident and not just the moment Craig was killed.

"I have a duty to seek full justice for Craig's family and be absolutely certain that Paul Watkins was the only one responsible for Craig's death.

"My condolences very much remain with Craig's family and I want to commend them for their bravery during this difficult time.

"This has been a shocking case and we will seek to identify any one else involved and seek justice for the family."

Craig Eade's family also released a statement after the case, saying: "Craig was a much loved son, brother, uncle and nephew. He was a very happy lad with a big heart. We loved him and will always miss him. The one thing that gives us comfort is knowing that the person responsible is off the streets, we hope for good."

Anyone with information about Mr Eade's death is asked to contact the homicide and major inquiries team on 101, or independent charity Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.