Woman tells murder trial about final conversation with ex-boyfriend before his death

A woman has told a murder jury about a final telephone conversation she had with her ex-boyfriend before he was found dying and naked in a shallow grave.

A dispute is said to have broken out between the pair at Cresswell Tower holiday park.
A dispute is said to have broken out between the pair at Cresswell Tower holiday park.

Richard Spottiswood "choked the life from" Darren Bonner then dumped him in a freshly dug hole in remote woodland because he believed he had "double crossed" him to a drugs rival, prosecutors claim.

Mr Bonner, from Sunderland, died in hospital 16 days after his fatally injured body was found, without ever regaining consciousness.

Donna Churchill has told jurors her ex-partner Mr Bonner had started working for Spottiswood at his garage in South Shields after replying to a job advert on Facebook.

She told the court Mr Bonner had ended up living in a camper van which was parked outside the premises.

When asked about the work he did for Spottiswood, Ms Churchill told the court: "Darren used to go and tend to cannabis farms with or for Spotty.

"I only found this out because when me and Darren finished, I used to go and visit him at the camper van parked outside the garage where he worked and one night, Spotty came in and said he needed to go and tend to these cannabis farms."

Miss Churchill said the last conversation she had with Mr Bonner, who she had stayed in contact with, was on July 7 last year, three days before his fatally injured body was found.

She told the court: "He rang on the morning when I was on my way to work. It was just general conversation at first but I explained to him I couldn't have this conversation because I was outside work.

"He said to me 'I have fell out with Spotty, he's going to do us in.

"I didn't believe him at that point in time.

"Darren used to ring a lot with different stories and I just said to him 'can you ring me back at 2pm when I'm on my break and we can talk more then?' but he didn't ring back at that time."

Miss Churchill said Mr Bonner had sounded "quite scared" but that it was hard to tell for sure as "you could never believe what he said".

Prosecutor Tim Roberts asked why she thought he was scared and Miss Churchill told the court: "I'm not sure, it was just the way he was."

Miss Churchill said she heard nothing else from Mr Bonner over the weekend, which was "unusual" and had not known he was in Northumberland, where he had joined Spottiswood on a family holiday at Cresswell Towers holiday park, near Morpeth.

Spottiswood told detectives during questioning that the hole had been dug for him and Mr Bonner to bury firearms.

He claimed an argument had broken out while they were there because he was suspicious Mr Bonner had "betrayed him to a rival drug dealer".

He said during the course of the exchange, Mr Bonner had confessed he had revealed the location of a cannabis crop to the rival, who had gone on to steal it.

Spottiswood said during the row, Mr Bonner had grabbed for the bag of guns and so he got him in a a headlock during a struggle, in self defence.

He said he had removed Mr Bonner's clothes in "panic".

Mr Johnson told jurors the suggestion of self defence is rejected, adding: "He knew exactly what he was doing, there and then he caused the irreversible brain damage which led to death.

"Mr Spottiswood, the prosecution contend, wasn't acting in reasonable and necessary self defence. He was deliberately choking the life from someone he trusted but had double crossed him."

The trial continues.