FOUR people charged with the murder of a Blackhall Colliery man appeared in court today.

Donna Balfour and James Riley, both of Ninth Street, and Marty Bates and Tracey Bunney of Tenth Street, all from Blackhall Colliery, appeared at Teesside Crown Court in Middlesbrough today and entered not guilty pleas to the murder of John Littlewood.

Mr Littlewood – known as John D – was found dead in a house in Third Street on Tuesday, July 30, 2019.

The 36-year-old died as a result of head injuries.

Detectives launched a murder probe that involved searches at properties in and around Blackhall Colliery, Hartlepool and South Shields.

All four of the defendants are jointly charged with murder.

They appeared via video link yesterday.

Bates has also been charged with assault occasioning actual bodily harm – he did not enter a plea for this offence.

Balfour is also charged with doing acts intended to pervert the course of public justice and witness or juror intimidation – she did not enter a plea for these offences.

Riley pleaded guilty to the additional charges of assault occasioning actual bodily harm, doing acts intended to pervert the course of public justice and witness or juror intimidation.

The charge of witness or juror intimidation relates to an allegation that they threatened or intimidated a woman they knew or believed to be a witness in the case, in Blackhall Colliery on July 29, 2019, with the intention of obstructing the investigation.

The charge of doing acts intended to pervert the course of public justice, with which Balfour and Riley are both charged, is an allegation that they interfered with a home CCTV system – attempting to delete footage.

The trial was meant to begin earlier in the year but was postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic, as jurors could not attend the court.

The case was adjourned until August 25.