A MURDERER launched a 'ferocious, brutal and sustained attack' on prone victim as he slept in his own bed.

John Littlewood was battered to death with a hammer by his 'friend' Marty Bates following a drunken row in July 2019.

The 31-year-old let himself into Mr Littlewood's Blackhall Colliery home before launching the devastating attack.

The 36-year-old father of two's lifeless body was found in his bed by his on-off partner, Teesside Crown Court heard.

The Northern Echo: John LittlewoodJohn Littlewood

Judge Paul Watson QC, the Recorder of Middlesbrough, sentenced Bates to a minimum term of 24 years in prison.

He said: "Having entered the premises you went upstairs where JL was asleep in his own bed in what should have been the safety of his own home.

"At some point you had acquired a blunt object, probably a hammer or something like it and you attacked him in  what was a ferocious, brutal and sustained attack striking the first blow to his head as he slept.

"One can only imagine the terror he must have felt as he woke to find you attacking him. It was a pitiless attack  and continued as you rained down blows upon him until he was lying bloodied and dying in his own bed where he was discovered by his girlfriend four days later.

"He suffered catastrophic injuries including multiple lacerations to his face and head.  The most destructive of which was a blow to the top of his head which shattered his skull and forced fragments of bone into his brain.

"The evidence of the forensic pathologist demonstrated that this attack was persistent and determined.  The ferocity of the impacts and the nature of the weapon lead me to the sure conclusion that, in the moment, you intended to kill him.

"The attack was premeditated in that I am sure you went to his home with an intention to cause him at least very serious harm. Prior to leaving Reilly’s home you had plainly discussed with one or both what you planned to do leading them, or one of them, to switch off the CCTV operating outside their house thus ensuring that incriminating evidence of your departure from their home to go to JL’s would not be captured. That was only necessary if you intended to attack JL and cause serious injury.

"I am also satisfied that you were, at the time of the killing, under the influence of drink, drugs or both. The evidence was that you and the others had been drinking and abusing drugs for a significant time before your departure from their house to go to JL’s.

"The frenzied nature of the attack, on someone who thought of himself as your friend, can only realistically be explained as being drink/drug fuelled.

"After the attack you took steps to cover your actions. The weapon was disposed of and has never been recovered. Your clothes, which would inevitably have been covered in blood given the amount of blood spatter on and around JL’s bed were disposed of."

The jury had heard how Bates was caught on CCTV heading towards the victim's home on the night Mr Littlewood was murdered.

The Northern Echo: A shirtless Marty Bates making his way home after brutally murdering John LittlewoodA shirtless Marty Bates making his way home after brutally murdering John Littlewood

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

In a shock twist, Bates, of Tenth Street, Blackhall Colliery, changed his plea to guilty just before the trial reached its climax.

The judge added: "There are no mitigating features and, contrary to submissions made on your behalf,  no credit is due for your late plea of guilt. You went into the witness box and gave evidence on oath that you had not killed John Littlewood.

"This followed from over 18 months of determined denial of guilt and the assertion that someone else had killed him. You conducted the trial on the basis that you were innocent of the killing of Mr Littlewood.

Only when it was finally obvious to you that you had no answer to the evidence in this case or none that would have stood up to scrutiny did you change your plea."