THE second defendant to give evidence in the Lee McKnight murder trial at Carlisle Crown Court has denied lying to cover his involvement.

During several hours of questioning, 26-year-old Arron Graham said he was not in the house in Carlisle where Mr McKnight was "beaten to the point of death" on the morning of July 24 last year.

At the time, Graham told the court, he was at another property in the city socialising with a woman friend.

The prosecution say that Mr McKnight, 26, was attacked in a house in Charles Street, Carlisle, early on July 24 after he was "lured" there because he owed a debt to fellow defendant Jamie Davison. 

The three men responsible for the violence Mr McKnight was subjected to, it is claimed, were Davison, 26, Jamie Lee Roberts, 18, and Graham.

They and three other people deny murder.

Graham's defence QC Fiona Horlick asked him if he had known Mr McKnight and he said: "I knew of him." But he denied a claim from Jamie Davison that he had been on "friendly terms" with Mr McKnight.

"This case is, of course, about Lee McKnight's death," said Ms Horlick, who then asked: "How do you feel about that?"

Graham replied: "It's a bit sad, isn't it?"

He told the jury he had fallen out with Davison a couple of years ago but they had started speaking again last year.

He knew that Davison sold drugs, he said, but he had nothing to do with this. Asked if they were friends now, Graham said: "No."

On the morning when Mr McKnight was attacked, said Graham, he was with a woman in Alexander Street, Carlisle, and was "very drunk." He said he did not want to guess what time he left the house.

He thought that he had stayed there, drinking pink gin, until "the early hours of the morning" - perhaps 3am to 4am. After leaving, he said, he went home.

Ms Horlick put the prosecution claim to him that Davison had wanted him to be at Charles Street early on July 24 because he was supposed to be on "friendly terms" with Mr McKnight and would therefore be able to help.

Graham said in response to this: "No. Definitely not. I was not friendly with Lee McKnight. I knew him to say hi to. That's was as far as it goes.

Ms Horlick said: "Did he [Davison] ask you to go round  and assist him in any way. "No - definitely not," said Graham. Nor did Davison have a hold over him, he said.

He said had no reason to want to help Davison in his dealings with Mr McKnight, said Graham.

He repeated that he never visited Charles Street on the morning of July 24. His barrister asked: "Did you seriously assault Lee McKnight?" Graham replied: "No. Definitely not."

He said that this was not something he would do. "Did you have anything to do with dumping his body in the river?" asked his QC. Graham responded: "No."

Under questioning, Graham said that he had "bumped into" Davison just before 8am on July 24 while walking his dog in Scalegate Road, Currock.

Davison had then asked him to collect the Nissan Navara pick-up truck from woodland in Wreay after telling him he had left it there after being involved in a "police chase".

Graham  told the jury he not ask Davison for details about the chase yet he agreed to collect the Nissan for Davison "as a little favour".

So, in the afternoon, he said, he cycled to Wreay and to find the pickup truck, which had the keys already in it.

But he had been unable to move it, he said.

Graham said that he did not at that time know that the Nissan was connected in any way with Mr McKnight's death. Ms Horlick asked: "If you had know that that car had been involved in the killing of Lee McKnight would you have touched that car?"

Graham replied: "No. Definitely not."

He denied making up the trip to collect the Navara for Davison in order to explain why his DNA was found on the vehicle's steering wheel, handbrake and gear stick.

Mr McKnight, 26, was found dead in the River Caldew, south of Carlisle, on the morning of July 24 last year.

According to the prosecution, the pickup was used to transport Mr McKnight - severely beaten but still alive - from Charles Street after he was attacked to the River Caldew where he was later found.

A pathologist said Mr McKnight was still alive when he was put into the river.

Ms Horlick's final question to Graham was: "Did you have anything to do with the death of Lee McKnight?" He answered: "No."

Questioned further by counsel for the other defendants, Graham said he remained on friendly terms with Jamie Lee Roberts.

He denied being at Charles Street when when Mr McKnight was being attacked and trying to "calm" the teenager down when he became "principal giver of violence."

"I wasn't there," said Graham.

Davison's barrister said: "I suggest you are delibately lying to this jury, not only protecting yourself but also trying to protect  Jamie Lee as well." Graham replied: "No."

He said he could not say how Mr McKnight was injured nor could he speak about him being taken to the river in the Nissan pickup, again saying he was not there.

Under cross-examination, Graham accepted that he had not asked for CCTV cameras to be checked in order to corroborate his claim that he went from his woman friend's house in Alexander Street to his home in Blackwell Road, Currock, on the morning Mr McKnight was attacked.

Prosecutor Timothy Cray challenged Graham about his explanation for knowing where the Navara was abandoned when he allegedly cycled to collect it for Davison.

The defendant had said he knew the area involved because on an earlier occasion he had been with Davison and another man when his co-defendasnt left drugs he had at the same woodland site.

Mr Cray asked if he was concerned to have been in a car on that earlier occasion with "drug dealers," and Graham said this had not concerned him.

"A lot of my friends are drug dealers," he added.

Graham rejected the suggestion that it was him who had driven the Nissan to Wreay on July 24 with Davison to dump the vehicle in the woodland. 

He denied being involved in taking Mr McKnight out of Charles Street and putting him into the Nissan earlier that day or helping to dump him in the river.

Mr Cray said Graham's account about trying to collect the jeep was nothing more than an attempt to explain the DNA evidence that linked him to the Nissan.

"No - that account is what happened," retorted Graham.

Mr McKnight's murder is denied by Davison, of Beverley Rise, Harraby; Graham, of Blackwell Road, Currock; Jamie Lee Roberts, of Grey Street; his father Paul Roberts, 51, also of Grey Street; Coral Edgar, 26, of Charles Street; and her mother Carol Edgar, 47, also of Charles Street.

The trial continues.