THE reason for the “vicious and brutal” killing of a man by two people he knew remains a mystery, as both perpetrators begin life sentences.

A judge ruled that Christopher Hills must serve at least 22 years in prison and Paul Watson a minimum of 17 years before they can be considered for parole, following their convictions for murder after an 11-day trial at Newcastle Crown Court.

It stems from the prolonged beating of Michael Price in a house in Chester-le-Street, where all three had taken a mix of drugs.

Hills and Watson turned on Mr Price for an unknown reason, using a knuckleduster, plus repeated kicks and stamps to the head and body, in the early hours of January 13.

Following an anonymous call to the ambulance service, Mr Price was found badly beaten, suffering head injuries, having been dragged from the house and dumped in the gutter, in Victor Street.

He still had a pulse and was treated at the scene before being taken to Newcastle’s Royal Victoria Infirmary suffering severe traumatic brain injuries.

The 36-year-old victim, from Chester-le-Street, died from his injuries 11 days later.

As police called at another house in Victor Street, amid inquiries on the day of the attack, Watson and Hills jumped from a rear upstairs window in a desperate escape bid.

Both were eventually captured, following violent struggles.

Hills, 31, of Gregory Terrace, Fencehouses, and Price, 30, of The Crescent, Chester-le-Street, both denied involvement, accounts they maintained at trial.

But, after less than two hours deliberation, the jury returned unanimous guilty verdicts against both defendants.

Jailing them, Judge David Hatton QC said: “Why it happened, I do not know, but your victim was subject to prolonged and sustained violence which involved numerous blows to his body and head.”

He said he was of the view it was not a pre-meditated attack, but added: “At some stage, as this violence continued, there was ultimately an intention to kill.”

The judge said Hills played, “a significant role in the episode”, and described him as, “an exceedingly violent man”, with many convictions for assault.

He was on licence following his release from a previous indeterminate sentence for violence at the time of the attack.

Detective Chief Superintendent Adrian Green, who led the investigation, said: “This was a difficult investigation given the fact that there were no independent witnesses and I am pleased that the jury have convicted both men.

“Watson and Hills are both extremely violent men who present a danger to the public.

“Today’s conviction will go some way to bringing closure to the family and will keep the public safe for the future.”

Mr Price leaves a sister Joanne Price, brother Andrew Price and mother Jacqueline Price.

Speaking for the family, Joanne said: “This was a liberty. They took advantage of Michael while he lay defenceless on the floor and couldn’t defend himself.

“We are really pleased with the result and are overjoyed that the jury saw through these two evil murderers.

“Michael can now be laid to rest once and for all.” Andrea Milsom, of the Crown Prosecution Service, said: “Christopher Hills and Paul Watson launched a violent and seemingly unprovoked attack on Michael Price.

“Since their arrest, they have both attempted to distance themselves from the attack, with each of them blaming the other for the devastating injuries that resulted in Michael’s death.”