A ‘murder’ victim who was dumped in the River Caldew south of Carlisle was so badly beaten he looked like a victim of torture, a jury heard.

But a pathologist confirmed that Lee McKnight, 26 – allegedly attacked over a drugs debt – was still breathing when he was thrown into the river in the early hours of July 24 last year.

As the trial of the six people accused of his murder got underway at Carlisle Crown Court, prosecuting QC Tim Cray told the jury that Mr McKnight was beaten “to the point of death” after being lured to a house in Charles Street, Carlisle early that day.

Outlining the prosecution's case, Mr Cray said Mr McKnight had – as well as his legitimate work – done some drug dealing in Carlisle but he got into trouble with another local drug dealer, 26-year-old Jamie Andrew Davison.

He is one of the six accused of Mr McKnight’s murder.

“Lee owed this drug dealer [Davison] money,” said Mr Cray. “We’ll never know exactly how big the debt was but it looks like it was thousands rather than hundreds of pounds." That debt made Mr McKnight a "marked man”, said the barrister.

Davison, of Beverley Rise, Harraby, was himself being chased by “serious dealers” from out of town, say the prosecution.

“Lee had been keeping a low profile,” said Mr Cray and was avoiding Davison. The defendant’s response, said the prosecutor, was to hatch a plan to flush Mr McKnight out of hiding so that he could either make him pay up – or punish him.

So 26-year-old Coral Edgar was used as a “lure”, said Mr Cray. Invited to her Charles Street home, Mr McKnight arrived there at 2.40am.

As soon as he arrived, said Mr Cray, Mr McKnight was attacked by Davison and two men he had recruited as “muscle” – Arron Mark Graham, 25, of Blackwell Road, Currock, and 18-year-old Jamie Lee Roberts, of Grey Street, Carlisle.

The attackers were then helped by Coral Edgar’s mother Carol, 46, and by the father of Jamie Lee Roberts, Paul Roberts, 51, also of Grey Street, the court heard.

Carol Edgar, also of Charles Street, was said to have provided the pick-up truck used to transport Mr McKnight – by then badly beaten – to the river while Roberts senior is accused of bringing a change of clothes to Charles Street for the attackers.

Mr McKnight was found just after 5am by a farmer who investigated after seeing a black pick-up truck driving down a lane towards the River Caldew, said Mr Cray.

Though gravely injured and deeply unconscious, Mr McKnight was alive when put into the river, said a pathologist.

The victim's multiple injuries included a skull fracture, broken ribs, and 36 cuts to his head – consistent with a beating using a riding crop found near the river.

The cause of death was diagnosed as head, neck and chest injures and drowning. Speaking of the injuries, Mr Cray added: "We suggest his injuries made him look like someone who was tortured."

All six defendants deny murder. The trial continues.