THE murder of Liverpool toddler James Bulger was one that shocked an entire nation when his body was discovered brutally battered in 1993.

He was abducted, tortured, and killed by two ten-year-old boys, Robert Thompson and Jon Venables, and his abused body was discovered in Walton, Liverpool, two days after his abduction.

The two murderers led the two-year-old away from a shopping centre after his mother took her eyes off him momentarily.

The Northern Echo: Jon Venables and Robert ThompsonJon Venables and Robert Thompson

Almost 30 years on, the horror of the toddler’s murder became the catalyst for another savage murder, this time of John Littlewood.

The Northern Echo: John LittlewoodJohn Littlewood

The 36-year-old was bludgeoned to death in his Blackhall home after getting into a drunken row with a group of friends following accusations that he was spreading rumours that one of them, James Riley, was one of the killers.

However, it was a different James Riley who was one of the brother's his made the grim discovery of the youngster's remains. He has since blamed the trauma he suffered as a young boy for his subsequent life of crime.

When Thompson and Venables were released from custody they were both given life-long anonymity for their own protection.

Teesside Crown Court heard how Riley and Marty Bates launched an unprovoked assault on Mr Littlewood before Bates returned several hours later and crept into his victim’s home and battered him to death with a hammer.

Riley’s barrister, Gregory Bull QC, said it was the ‘rumours’ of Riley’s involvement in the murder of James Bulger that led to the devastating violence meted out to Mr Littlewood.

The Northern Echo: James RileyJames Riley

He told the court that Riley’s strong Scouse accent was at the root of the unfounded rumour when he moved to the east Durham village.

The court heard how Riley was not present when Bates, who was jailed for life for murder, delivered the brutal, fatal blows to Mr Littlewood’s head.

However, Riley and his then partner Donna Balfour switched off the CCTV in their home to enable Bates to slip away and attack his defenceless victim.

The 31-year-old also admitted intimidating a witness when he threatened to ‘kill’ a neighbour of Mr Littlewood’s when a murder investigation was launched in July 2019 and the earlier assault on the victim.

Balfour, 36, now of Neasham Road Darlington, pleaded guilty to perverting the course of justice by interfering with a CCTV system at her home to attempt to delete footage.

The Northern Echo: Donna BalfourDonna Balfour

Judge Paul Watson QC, the Recorder of Middlesbrough, sentenced Riley to a total of 42-months in prison and Balfour to 29-months less 103 days.

“It clear that you, Bates and Littlewood, along with the two women, had been in the house for some time drinking and there was some suggestion of drug taking,” he said.

“There was an argument over something trivial and during the course of that argument you attacked Mr Littlewood by, first of all, punching him to the face and then following up with a full-blooded kick to the head.”

Bates, of Tenth Street, Blackhall Colliery, was jailed for life and told he would serve a minimum of 24 years in custody for murder.

His Partner, Tracey Bunney, was cleared of murder after driving Bates close to Mr Littlewood’s address before leaving he scene.

Speaking after the sentencing, Detective Superintendent Kevin Weir, who led the investigation, said: “Nothing can bring John D back but I hope these sentences give his family some closure and comfort.

“The investigation into John D’s murder was complex and involved dozens of specialist officers who worked tirelessly to make sure the culprits were found so I know the whole team will be pleased knowing their hard work helped bring Bates, Riley and Balfour to justice.”