FRIENDS and family have rallied round the North-East man accused of murdering disabled Alan Atkin.

The trial of Ricky Gelardo, of Darlington, appeared to be coming to its conclusion last night after his defence team closed their case with witnesses close to the 29-year-old.

Mr Gelardo denies killing heroin addict Mr Atkin, 62, at his home in Swan Court, Scarborough.

Mr Atkin was found dead in April having been the victim of a brutal assault.

At Leeds Crown Court yesterday, Samia Gelardo, 27, of Corporation Road, Darlington, backed up her brother’s account – that the person responsible was Scarborough woman Karen Stubbings – by claiming to overhear her plotting an attack on Mr Atkin.

She said she heard the conversation on the day Mr Gelardo was released on bail from Holme House Prison, Stockton, while facing charges relating to a domestic incident in Darlington.

Mr Gelardo was bailed to live with Miss Stubbings, a friend of his mother’s, at her home at Lismore Road, Scarborough.

On the first night of his release, the conversation turned to Miss Stubbings’ sister, Janet Blake, and her heroin addiction.

Miss Gelardo said: “Karen said a man she had been hanging around with had got her back on the smack and she was saying she was going to have him sorted out.”

The prosecution maintains that Miss Stubbings – registered disabled because of arthritis and osteoporosis of the spine – could not physically have carried out the attack.

But another of Mr Gelardo’s sisters, Sinead Davies, 20, also of Darlington, yesterday described a night out in Darlington, in the weeks leading up to Mr Atkin’s death, during which Miss Stubbings danced in bars.

She said: “In the dance floor at Route 66 there is a pole and she was swinging all around that.”

Andrew Robertson, for the prosecution, accused the pair of lying in a bid to help their brother.

Also giving evidence was Peter McGrath, 75, formerly of Darlington, who told the jury that while he was battling cancer, Mr Gelardo had helped him with odd jobs and never asked for payment.

“I always found him honest and trustworthy and I cannot believe he has hurt anyone,”

he said.

Alan Cuthbert, of Selby Crescent, Darlington, is disabled by severe epilepsy and back problems. He said: “People seem to think you are there to be taken advantage of but Ricky always gave me respect.”

The trial continues.