THREE people have been convicted for their part in the “vicious and callous” murder of a man in his home.

In July 2019, the body of John Littlewood was found in the bedroom of his home in Third Street, Blackhall Colliery where he had lived for just two weeks.

He had suffered serious head injuries after being repeatedly beaten with a blunt instrument - believed to be a hammer.

Earlier this week, Marty Bates changed his plea to guilty having earlier denied murder.

His partner, Tracey Bunney was cleared of murder this morning after a long-running trial at Teesside Crown Court.

Bates, of Tenth Street, Blackhall Colliery, admitted going back to the victim's house following an earlier dispute. After sneaking in through an open rear door he climbed the stairs at launched the fatal attack on Mr Littlewood as he slept.

Co-accused Donna Balfour, 36, of Ninth Street, Blackhall pleaded guilty to perverting the course of justice by interfering with a CCTV system at her home to attempt to delete footage.

Her partner, James Riley, 31, also of Ninth Street, Blackhall previously pleaded guilty to intending to pervert the course of justice, witness intimidation, and a further count of assault occasioning actual bodily harm in relation to a separate incident.

The court heard that the defendants had visited John Littlewood in his new home on the evening of Thursday, July 25 2019 and the 36-year-old – known as John D – was murdered at some point between that night and the following morning.

His lifeless body was found in his bed by his on-off partner on the evening of Tuesday, July 30.

The jury had heard how Bates was caught on CCTV heading towards the victim's home on the night he was believed to have been murdered.

Other footage showed the friends visiting shops before their day of drinking exploded into violence.

Durham Constabulary said that in the days following the brutal murder, the defendants were spotted together at the bingo, while Riley was seen buying firelighters and Marigold gloves at a convenience store in Hartlepool.

Detective Superintendent Kevin Weir, who led the murder investigation, said: “This was a particularly difficult and complex investigation that spanned several months and involved dozens of specialist officers and staff.

“The investigation team has worked incredibly hard to bring this case to court, so I am pleased it has culminated in the successful conviction of Marty Bates, James Riley and Donna Balfour.

“Bates is a callous individual who has shown no remorse for his actions. On the Sunday evening, while John lay dead in his bed, unbelievably he joined his friends, Riley and Balfour, at the bingo in Peterlee as if nothing had happened.

“This was a vicious attack and there is no doubt John suffered at the hands of his killers. Although nothing can bring John back, I hope that these convictions will offer his family some comfort that justice has been served and bring some closure to the terrible suffering they have endured.

“Thanks must also go to the members of the public who came forward as a result of a media appeal – your information has proved vital in ensuring justice for John and his family”.

All three will be sentenced at Teesside Crown Court at a date yet to be determined.