A CHILLING selfie shows a murderer smiling with his victim moments before burying him alive in shallow grave.
The haunting image of trainee mechanic Darren Bonner, 24, his boss, murderer Richard Spottiswood, and his girlfriend was taken during a weekend away in a rural caravan park.
North News and Pictures6 Killer Richard Spottiswood, 34, pictured with then partner Lucy Burn, 30, and victim Darren Bonner (centre), 24, in a selfie taken only hours before his death
North News and Pictures6 The shallow grave where garage boss Richard Spottiswood dumped his employee Darren Bonner's naked body and left him to suffocate
North News and Pictures6 Richard Spottiswood was given a life sentence at Newcastle Crown Court for his despicable crime
North News and Pictures6 Darren Bonner, 24, from Sunderland, was said to be fearful of his brutish boss
But shortly afterwards Spottiswood, 34, ambushed Mr Bonner and placed him in a headlock before throttling him until he passed out.
He then dumped him naked in a hole behind a dry stone wall and left him to suffocate under a mound of soil.
'KILLED OVER A MISUNDERSTANDING'
A passing hiker walking along a coastal path heard Mr Bonner fighting for life and he was pulled to the surface but the victim had already suffered severe brain damage and died 17 days later in hospital.
It emerged Spottiswood, of South Shields near Newcastle-upon-Tyne was running a drug trafficking racket and wrongly believed Mr Bonner had betrayed his operation to a rival dealer.
This week the victim's fiancee Donna Churchill spoke for the first time about the tragedy after Spottiswood was jailed for life having been been convicted of murder.
The whole thing was heartbreaking but that chilling picture of them together almost killed me. I felt sick to my stomach at the sight of it
Victim Darren Bonner's fiancee, Donna Churchill
Spottiswood's girlfriend Lucy Burn, 29 was jailed for 30 months after admitting assisting an offender. She was cleared of murder.
Miss Churchill, 40, of Sunderland said: “The whole thing was heartbreaking but that chilling picture of them together almost killed me. I felt sick to my stomach at the sight of it.
"Darren looks absolutely tiny next to his hulking boss. My Darren didn’t stand a chance against him that night.
“I’d never liked the way Spotty treated Darren and never really understood why Darren stayed involved with him or continued working as a trainee mechanic at the garage Spotty owned. He spoke to him like dirt and gave him all the awful jobs he didn’t want to do himself."
Miss Churchill said she and Darren had an argument over the bully boss shortly before he was murdered.
'I KNEW HE FEARED SPOTTY'
“When I met Spotty I hated him instantly, so I asked Darren to come back to my house where I felt he belonged.
"But Darren told me he couldn’t, and his eyes were filled with sadness. I knew he feared Spotty but couldn’t understand why. Something was holding him back.”
Newcastle Crown Court was told the killing occurred in July 2017 at Cresswell Towers Caravan Park.
A “heated argument” broke out during which Spottiswood choked Mr Bonner and then believing he was dead, loaded him into the back of a van before dumping him in the shallow grave he had dug nearby.
It seemed so sick to imagine that he’d been buried alive. He was treated like an animal
Mr Bonner was found lying in the foetal position with a broad ligature mark around his neck and his body was covered with bruises, scratches and 12 blows from a ‘rod-shaped weapon’ on his back.
Miss Churchill said she began to feel uneasy two days after Darren went on the trip shortly before discovering the truth.
''I just cannot comprehend the circumstances in which he’d been discovered," she said.
"It seemed so sick to imagine that he’d been buried alive. He was treated like an animal.''
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Spottiswood who denied murder, told the court he had killed Darren in self-defence but ordering him to serve a minimum of 22 years in jail, Judge Stephen Ashurst told him: ''Mr Bonner died an untimely, violent and undignified death.
''He wanted to fit in and belong. He was much-loved and looking forward to the future but by your actions, he was deprived at such a young age of making something of his life.”
Det Ch Insp Andy Fairlamb, of Northumbria Police, said: “The fact that Darren was left in such a critical condition, barely breathing and lying in a shallow grave, absolutely shows how truly cold and despicable Spottiswood is.”
North News and Pictures6 Spottiswood's girlfriend Lucy Burn, 29 was jailed for 30 months after admitting assisting an offender, but was cleared of murder
ncjMedia6 Police at the scene of the horrific killing near Creswell Towers Holiday Park in Morpeth, Northumberland