'Cultish' neighbours tortured and killed Tyneside man, jury told

Helen Pidd and agencies
Jimmy Prout’s body was dumped on wasteland near his house, said the prosecution. Photograph: Northumbria police/PA

A vulnerable man was tortured and killed in a “cultish” murder by a group of neighbours he thought were his friends, a court has heard.

Jimmy Prout, 45, was subjected to months of “dark ages” abuse by four friends from his street in North Tyneside before they dumped his body on wasteland where it lay undiscovered for more than six weeks, a jury was told.

Three of them then faked confession letters admitting to the murder purporting to be from the fourth, Newcastle crown court heard on Wednesday.

Ann Corbett, 26, Zahid Zaman, 43, Myra Wood, 50, and Kay Rayworth, 56, deny murdering Prout and causing or allowing the death of a vulnerable adult. They have all pleaded guilty to perverting the course of justice.

The jury heard the group of five had a strange relationship that had developed an almost “cultish dimension”.

It is alleged a series of events in late 2015 created tensions that led to a number of serious assaults against Prout, which included him having his teeth knocked out with a hammer and chisel and being forced to eat his own testicle.

Paul Greaney QC, prosecuting, said: “In effect, over a period of time, Jimmy Prout was not just mistreated, he was tortured.

“The prosecution case is that the four defendants took part in that violence against Jimmy Prout, either inflicting injuries directly or assisting or encouraging the other members of the group to do so. In the end, this conduct was to cause the death of Jimmy Prout.”

Greaney said the evidence suggested Prout died on 9 February 2016, and his body was dumped on wasteland 100 metres from his home where it began to decompose and was partly eaten by animals.

The group then allegedly set about covering their tracks as well as raiding his bank account, asking people if they had seen Prout as they pretended to look for him.

Eventually on 25 March, the police received a call from Zaman in which he claimed Corbett had attacked him and killed Prout, an attempt to “throw her to the wolves”.

Arriving at 35 St Stephen’s Way, North Tyneside, officers found Zaman, Rayworth and Wood, who claimed to have letters written by Corbett confessing to the murder.

Greaney told jurors it was “pure theatre” because they all knew Prout had been dead for more than six weeks.

The court heard Prout was the sixth of eight children and lived a simple life, fathering two children, and was liked by those who knew him. He started to live as a tenant at 75 St Stephen’s Way, which was owned by Rayworth, and he soon became integrated into the group.

Zaman and Rayworth lived at number 35, having at one stage been partners, but Zaman had since become involved with Wood, who along with Corbett also lived at number 75.

Tensions arose when Zaman believed Prout had played some part in a theft. Zaman, who uses a wheelchair, was described as vengeful and controlling and determined to get his own back.

Greaney said: “The group considered that Jimmy Prout deserved punishment and the punishment he received was brutal in nature. He was repeatedly assaulted and subjected to dreadful indignities.

“In fact, we do not understand the defendants to deny that this is so. They accept that Jimmy Prout was assaulted, but each of them wishes to reduce his or her own involvement in events, seeking to blame one or more of the others.

“In truth they were in it together.”