TWO people involved in the violent death of a man with learning difficulties have had their sentences increased.

James Wheatley was convicted of Lee Irving’s murder and sentenced to serve a minimum term of 23 years in prison.

Wheatley’s mother, Julie Mills, his girlfriend, Nicole Lawrence, and a lodger in their home, Barry Imray, were also sentenced at Newcastle Crown Court in December for their involvement in Mr Irving’s death. They were all found guilty of causing or allowing the death of a vulnerable adult, and also of conspiracy to pervert the course of public justice.

Solicitor General Robert Buckland QC MP referred the three to the Court of Appeal under the unduly lenient sentence scheme to ask for their sentences to be reviewed in order to ensure they reflected the seriousness of their conduct.

Mr Irving, who was 24-years-old at the time of his death, suffered from learning disabilities that were diagnosed in childhood. He had been living with Wheatley in Kenton, Newcastle, and some of the others for many months.

At the house, Wheatley subjected Mr Irving to serious violence. The others were aware what was happening but did nothing to prevent the attacks or seek medical assistance that Irving urgently required.

Instead, Mills sedated him with drugs in order to keep him in the house, so that his injuries would not be discovered. Lawrence, along with Wheatley, would also withdraw money from Irving’s account to spend on themselves.

Over the course of a few days in June 2016, Wheatley struck Mr Irving about the head and body, suffering horrific injuries that eventually lead to his death.

Text messages were also exchanged between Wheatley and Lawrence, detailing what had happened. Lawrence also Googled the injuries to see what may be wrong with him.

The group attempted to cover up what had happened by hiding any potential evidence. They dressed Mr Irving’s body and Imray wheeled it in a pushchair to a canal path beside the A1 near Durham. He then called the emergency services with a passer-by and pretended he had just discovered the body.

Following the referral to the Court of Appeal, two of the offenders have had their sentences increased.

Mills, 52, had her eight year sentence increased to ten years in prison. Lawrence, 22, who was originally sentenced to four years in prison, will now serve seven.

Following the hearing, Mr Buckland said: “This is a particularly sad case, where those around the victim who should have been protecting him were allowing him to live in a state of fear and violence.

“Vulnerable people should have the full protection of the law and those with disabilities should feel that crimes and violence of this nature will be taken very seriously.

“I welcome the decision of the court, and hope the increased sentences send a strong message that such crimes will not be tolerated.”