Page last updated at 19:20 GMT, Friday, 15 January 2010

Man's partner denies 'torture' murder in County Durham

Andrew Gardner
Mr Gardner suffered more than 100 separate injuries, the court was told

A mother-of-four accused of torturing her partner to death has denied she intended to murder him.

Andrew Gardner was punched, stamped on, whipped and burnt before his death at Arthur Street, Chilton, in March 2008.

Mr Gardner's partner Clare Nicholls, 28, her brother Simon, 24, and her ex-partner Steven Martin, 44, all of Arthur Street, are accused of murder.

At Teesside Crown Court, Clare Nicholls admitted she attacked Mr Gardner but denied she tortured him to death.

'Final' attack

Prosecutor Paul Sloan QC said she had told a pack of lies "from beginning to end" by repeatedly changing her story to play down her role in Mr Gardner's death.

On Thursday, Clare Nicholls admitted manslaughter but the plea was rejected by the prosecution.

Mr Gardner suffered more than 100 separate injuries, including 21 fractured ribs, in the weeks leading up to his death on 13 March last year, Teesside Crown Court heard.

Mr Sloan accused all three defendants of being involved in the final, fatal attack on Mr Gardner in the living room of the house they all shared in Arthur Street.

Ms Nicholls maintained that on the day he died she had only punched him twice during a row.

But Mr Sloan said that during the "final" attack, Mr Gardner had been pinned to the floor by Mr Nicholls and Mr Martin and that Ms Nicholls had stamped on his already burnt foot, fracturing it.

I do know one thing, that I never wanted to see that man die
Defendant Clare Nicholls

He added: "At the time of that attack he was already suffering from 21 rib fractures and it was obvious that he was in need of urgent medical attention.

"Your intention in carrying out that attack was to cause him really serious bodily injury."

Breaking down in tears to deny Mr Sloan's accusation, Ms Nicholls replied: "I do know one thing, that I never wanted to see that man die."

Under Mr Sloan's cross examination, she admitted jumping on Mr Gardner with her knee, on one occasion.

She added: "The rest of his broken ribs would have been caused by my brother Simon.

"I did not realise that my knee going into his ribs was going to cause him so much pain."

The trial continues.

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