A vulnerable man was tortured to death in a "cultish" murder by his girlfriend and three accomplices, with them even forcing him to eat his own testicle, a court has heard.

James 'Jimmy' Prout, a father-of-two, was subjected to months of abuse meted out by his 26-year-old girlfriend Ann Corbett and three of their "friends", it was alleged.

The 45-year-old's body was then allegedly dumped on wasteland 100m from his home in North Tyneside, where it lay undiscovered for more than six weeks.

Newcastle Crown Court heard on Wednesday (3 May) that Prout was targeted by Corbett and her friends Myra Wood, 49, Kay Rayworth, 55, and Zahid Zaman, 43, after an argument among the five.

It was alleged that the gang had a strange relationship which had a "cultish dimension". Their attacks on Prout allegedly included knocking his teeth out with a hammer and chisel.

Corbett, Zaman, Wood and Rayworth all deny murdering Prout and causing or allowing the death of a vulnerable adult, although they have pleaded guilty to perverting the course of justice.

Three of them are accused of faking confession letters admitting to the murder, purporting to be from the fourth suspect.

Prosecutor Paul Greaney QC told the court that the evidence suggested Prout died on 9 February last year. His body decomposed and was partly eaten by animals over the following six weeks.

The crown alleges that Prout died through the trauma of his injuries before his body was wrapped in a sleeping bag and dumped in bushes in an attempt to make it look as if he died sleeping rough. The gang allegedly then plundered his bank account.

It was also stated that the group's dislike of Prout stemmed from the wheelchair-using Zaman's belief that Corbett's brother Ivan had stolen his belongings, and Prout had not done enough to help retrieve the items.

Prolonged torture

Greaney said: "Probably because of these events and, no doubt, because he was perceived as being vulnerable, the other members of the group started to abuse Jimmy," reports the Daily Telegraph.

"He was assaulted on several occasions, including in the days just before his death.

"Furthermore, those assaults involved the infliction of terrible injuries and were often associated with humiliation.

"Awfully, on one occasion, Jimmy Prout's scrotum was sliced open and his testicle was removed. He was then forced to eat it.

"On another occasion, his teeth were removed with a hammer and chisel. In effect, over a period of time, Jimmy Prout was not just mistreated: he was tortured."

The trial continues.