A BUSINESSMAN at the centre of a murder trial has told jurors that he was angry when he found out his daughter had been burgled but denied rounding up friends to mete out justice.

Neil Elliott, who owns the Niramax recycling company, is accused of being the ringleader of a gang who kicked, stamped and punched a man to death who they suspected of carrying out the burglary.

Michael Phillips was violently attacked in his Hartlepool home by a gang of vigilantes who believed he had burgled the home of one of his daughters and stole her car, the trial has been told.

The 39-year-old was subjected to a brutal and sustained assault using a cosh, knuckleduster, punches, kicks and stamps, in June last year, Teesside Crown Court heard earlier in the trial.

Elliott is the first of the seven men accused of the murder to give evidence to the court.

Nicholas Johnson QC, representing Elliott, asked his client how he felt after speaking to his daughters about the break-in.

Elliott replied: "When I asked the question, how did they get in, is there any sign of forced entry, it started to become apparent that the girls had left the door open.

"So they weren’t targeted. It was just their own stupid fault because they’d left the back door open. Some sneak burglar had been trying doors in the area.

"That sort of calmed the situation down a lot. In fact I was more annoyed at the girls for leaving the back door open."

Mr Johnson asked whether Elliott intended to get a group together to hunt down the person responsible and mete out violence to him. He replied: "No, certainly not."

When asked why he had posted on Facebook about the burglary, Elliott replied: "I knew that Facebook is run by drama, by likes. By having something that’s drama, if you like, comments, people would share, it would go viral or Facebook viral.

“It would keep popping up on people’s pages. It would hopefully lead to people speaking about it, somebody saying ‘I’ve spotted a car’ or ‘it was so-and-so’."

The seven, all from Hartlepool, are Lee Darby, 32, of Ridley Court; Neil Elliott, 44, of Briarfields Close; Gary Jackson, 31, of The Darlings; John Musgrave, 54, and Sean Musgrave, 30, both of Wordsworth Avenue; Craig Thorpe, 36, of Young Street; and Anthony Small, 40, of Rydal Street.

All of the men deny murdering Mr Phillips.

Elliott denies a charge of assaulting another man causing actual bodily harm.

The trial continues.