Gang 'beat man to death in Hartlepool thinking he was burglar'

Michael Phillips Image copyright Family photo
Image caption Michael Phillips was found with multiple injuries in a house in Hartlepool in June

A gang of seven armed with knuckle dusters beat and kicked a man to death while mistakenly believing he had burgled a house, a court heard.

The body of Michael Phillips, 39, was found with more than 50 injuries in Rydal Street, Hartlepool, on 10 June.

At Teesside Crown Court seven men, aged between 30 and 54, denied his murder.

The opening of their trial heard one of the defendants thought Mr Phillips had burgled his daughter's home and he recruited a gang to get revenge.

Prosecutor Nick Johnson QC said the victim was beaten to death in an attack that began as soon as he opened his door at about 21:00 that night.

'Law into own hands'

Mr Johnson said Mr Phillips was slammed against a fish tank and was punched and kicked, which led to internal bleeding.

The court heard Neil Elliott, 44, had decided to "take the law into his own hands" and put a post on Facebook saying, "whoever burgled my daughter's home and took her car - your life is about to change, trust me".

But there was "no real evidence" Mr Phillips had carried out the burglary, jurors heard.

Mr Johnson said Mr Elliott, of Briarfield Close, then "recruited a team" of six men to assist "in various ways".

The other men who all deny murder and are all from Hartlepool are: Lee Darby, 32, of Ridley Court; Anthony Small, 40, of Rydal Street; Gary Jackson, 31, of The Darlings, in Hart Village; John Musgrave, 54, and Sean Musgrave, 30, both of Wordsworth Avenue and Craig Thorpe, 36, of Young Street.

Mr Elliott also denied assault occasioning actual bodily harm.

The trial is expected to last until the end of February.

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