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Garage boss will serve at least 22 years for murder of worker who he left to die in a shallow grave

A garage boss convicted of the murder of one of his workers was today told he must serve at least 22 years of a life sentence.

Richard Spottiswood "choked the life" from Darren Bonner, who he thought had doubled-crossed him, and dumped him in a shallow grave, hidden in woodland, while he was still alive.

Richard Spottiswood will today find out his tariff - the length of time he must spend behind bars - for the murder of Darren Bonner.

Richard Spottiswood will today find out his tariff - the length of time he must spend behind bars - for the murder of Darren Bonner.

Mr Bonner, 24, from Sunderland, was found naked and unresponsive in a hole behind a dry-stone wall at Cresswell, near Druridge Bay, Northumberland.

He had suffered irreversible brain damage and never regained consciousness before dying 16 days later.

Spottiswood, 34, of Canterbury Way, Jarrow, denied murder, but was found guilty by a jury after a two-week trial.

At a sentencing hearing at Newcastle Crown Court today, Judge Stephen Ashurst said he must serve a minimum of 22 years of a life sentence before he can apply for parole.

Darren Bonner died 16 days after he was found dumped in a shallow grave in a field.

Darren Bonner died 16 days after he was found dumped in a shallow grave in a field.

During his trial, Tim Roberts QC, prosecuting, said Spottiswood ran a legitimate garage business in South Shields, which Mr Bonner worked at.

They were also involved in cannabis dealing together, in a separate, illegal, sideline to the garage work.

Mr Roberts said: "Richard Spottiswood had become suspicious that someone had been leaking information about his operations to a rival drug dealer.

"The motive for the attack was revenge, following discovery that Darren Bonner had betrayed Richard Spottiswood to a rival drug dealer. That is a powerful motive."

The shallow grave behind a dry-stone wall where Darren Bonner was found.

The shallow grave behind a dry-stone wall where Darren Bonner was found.

The pair went on a caravan holiday at Cresswell, with Spottiswood's then-girlfriend Lucy Burn, 30, of Burns Close, South Shields.

She told the police Mr Bonner had simply "disappeared" the morning after he rowed with Spottiswood.

Mr Roberts told the court: "According to Lucy Burn, there was a horrible argument between Richard Spottiswood and Darren Bonner in the caravan.

"Richard Spottiswood was accusing Darren Bonner of spying on him to find out where drugs and money were.

Lucy Burn was jailed for 30 months for assisting an offender.

Lucy Burn was jailed for 30 months for assisting an offender.

"After the argument, according to Lucy Burn, it all went quiet. Both of them were all right and she went to bed, she said. In the morning, Darren Bonner, according to her, had disappeared."

Burn claimed that Spottiswood had not allowed her to look in the rear compartment of their van when they left the caravan site early that morning.

She said he stopped the van near the site of the grave and was out of the vehicle for "about 10 minutes" before he came back "really sweaty".

The pair concocted a story about stopping near the burial site for Burn to search for her mobile phone, and they avoided police for three days when they returned to South Tyneside.

Judge Stephen Ashurst said Spottiswood, who he called a "significant producer of cannabis in South Tyneside", must serve a minimum of 22 years behind bars before he can even apply for parole.

He said Mr Bonner suffered an "untimely, violent and undignified death" after the attack, which happened in the caravan in the hours before he was dumped.

Judge Ashurst said Spottiswood must have become aware that Mr Bonner was still, barely, clinging to life and breathing when he dumped him in the grave, and that is why his body was uncovered.

The judge told him: "Even you, Richard Spottiswood, were not prepared to bury him alive."

Judge Ashurst said Mr Bonner's death has had a devastating impact on those close to him: "It would take a person with a heart of stone not to be moved by the sense of loss experienced by his mother.

"She and the extended family suffered the initial shock of learning he had been seriously injured, but then to endure the optimism he might, just, survive, then the ultimate low of watching him slowly deteriorating before their eyes.

"He had had his difficulties and he was vulnerable, impressionable. He wanted to fit in and belong. He was much loved and looked forward to the future.

"By your actions, Richard Spottiswood, he was deprived, at such a young age, of making something of his life."

Spottiswood had claimed during the trial that he had killed Mr Bonner in self-defence during an argument at the freshly-dug hole.

Judge Ashurst said he, and the jury, rejected that story outright, and said Burn's account was the most likely version of events that night.

She was originally jointly charged with his murder, but was cleared of involvement, and pleaded guilty to assisting an offender.

The judge said her lies in the early stages of the investigation "hampered the police in getting to the truth".

He sentenced her to 30 months behind bars, telling her: "You provided help in trying to cover up a dreadful crime."