Tyne & Wear

Lee Irving murder: Life for 'brutal bully' James Wheatley

Lee Irving
Image caption Lee Irving's injuries, which included 27 broken ribs, were likened to those of a car crash victim

A "vicious and brutal bully" who tortured a vulnerable man to death before getting an accomplice to dump his body has been jailed for 23 years.

Lee Irving, 24, who had learning disabilities, was found dead by a footpath in Fawdon, Newcastle, in 2015.

James Wheatley, 29, of Studdon Walk, Newcastle, had denied murder but was found guilty at Newcastle Crown Court.

The trial heard Mr Irving suffered 27 rib fractures. Three other people were jailed in connection with his death.

Image copyright Northumbria Police
Image caption Clockwise from top left: James Wheatley, Julie Mills, Nicole Lawrence, Barry Imray

Wheatley's girlfriend Nicole Lawrence, 22, and his mother Julie Mills, 51, who lived in the same house, were jailed for four and eight years respectively.

The pair were found guilty of causing or allowing Mr Irving's death and perverting the course of justice.

Barry Imray, who had learning difficulties, was sentenced to three years.

The 35-year-old, of no fixed abode, had been convicted of causing or allowing death but cleared of murder and manslaughter.

Beaten and drugged

Mr Irving had endured a life of being picked on because of his learning disabilities and once he reached adulthood was routinely robbed of his money, mobile phones and clothes.

He was targeted by the occupants of Wheatley's house, who pretended to befriend him in order to gain his trust.

Lawrence persuaded Mr Irving's mother to pass on his bank details after telling her Lee lived with her.

But Wheatley then signed him up for online banking in order to fleece his bank account.

He was beaten by Wheatley for a prolonged period and sedated with drugs, including morphine, to prevent him escaping his captors.

Image copyright BBC news grab
Image caption Lee Irving's body was dumped on a footpath a short distance from Wheatley's house

When he died his body was wheeled in a pushchair and dumped on a footpath a short distance from the house.

All four were in the house at the time and Mr Justice Soole described Mills and Wheatley as "dominant figures".

Sentencing Wheatley, the judge said: "You are a vicious and brutal bully, prone to sudden and explosive acts of sustained violence.

"[Lee Irving] was both unable and unwilling to resist and you knew it.

"There is a special revulsion for the assault and abuse of the vulnerable."

After sentencing, Det Cons Chris Hogg from Northumbria Police read out a statement on behalf of the family.

It read: "Lee always wanted to have friends and people he could look up to.

"Unfortunately, it would seem the people he chose as his friends turned out to be the people who took advantage of him and were not his friends at all.

"It is devastating to think that his vulnerabilities prevented him from seeing the situation he was in and allowed such horrible people to victimise him to the point of his violent and needless death."

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