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James Wheatley sentenced to life imprisonment for murdering vulnerable man


A Newcastle man who imprisoned and tortured to death a vulnerable man over nine days has been sentenced to life imprisonment at Newcastle Crown Court today, with three others also sentenced for charges relating to his death.

James Michael Wheatley (29) was found guilty by a jury of the murder of Lee Irving (24), a man with learning difficulties who had believed he was a close friend. Wheatley had previously pleaded guilty to a charge of conspiracy to pervert the course of justice.

Barry Imray (35) had previously pleaded guilty to charges of conspiracy to pervert the course of justice and a further charge of pervert the course of justice. He was found guilty by jury of a further charge of causing/allowing the death of a vulnerable person.

Wheatley's mother, Julie Mills (52) and his then girlfriend Nicole Lawrence (22) were also found guilty of charges of conspiracy to pervert the course of justice and causing/allowing the death of a vulnerable person. All four defendants were living in the same house in Kenton, at the time of Lee Irving's death.

Gerry Wareham, Chief Crown Prosecutor for CPS North East, said: "James Wheatley exploited the friendship of Lee Irving in the worst way imaginable. Lee only wanted friendship but, instead, became the target of Wheatley's aggression.

"After the attacks on Lee Irving, the defendants made every effort to hide what they had done; sedating and imprisoning him in their home, moving his body after death and removing key evidence.

"Even those defendants not directly involved in the attacks would have recognised that the extent of his injuries required immediate medical attention. Not one of them tried to assist Lee or to prevent further injury to him.

"This has been a complex case, in which the defendants' crude attempts to hamper the police investigation have been systematically dismantled and laid bare by police and prosecutors. I would hope that the convictions today provide some comfort to the family and friends of Lee Irving, at what must be an incredibly difficult time. Our thoughts are with them."


Notes to Editors

  • James Michael Wheatley  was sentenced to life imprisonment with a minimum term of 23 years.
  • Barry Imray was sentenced to three years in prison.
  • Julie Mills was sentenced to eight years in prison.
  • Nicole Lawrence was sentenced to four years in prison.

In June of last year, police were contacted by a man who identified himself as 'Danny,' later found to be Barry Imray, stating that he had found a body near a footbridge which passed over the A1 motorway near to Kingston Park. During the course of the subsequent police investigation, it was discovered that Imray himself had used a child's pushchair to move the body of Lee Irving 800 metres from the house he shared with his co-defendant.

Lee Irving suffered 27 rib fractures, multiple bruises to his limbs and body, abrasions, lacerations and fractures of the bones of his nose and jaw, with the injuries delivered by James Wheatley eventually resulting in the respiratory failure which killed him. 

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