A “third person” was present in a house where a man was strangled to death, a murder trial has heard.

Donald Patience, 45, was found dead wrapped in a duvet at the bottom of the stairs at his home on Ainsworth Road, Radcliffe, on August 22 last year.

Ian Connell, 39, was arrested and charged with murder after being seen walking Mr Patience’s dog, but Manchester Crown Court heard that a third man is believed to have been in the house.

Alex Leach KC, defending, said: "How could you ever be sure that it must have been Ian Connell when there was another person present in the property at that time?"

Connell, of Duke Street, Bolton, looked on from the dock as Mr Leach told the jury of six men and six women that evidence showed a neighbour heard “three voices” coming from the house.

The Bolton News: Police investigating the scenePolice investigating the scene (Image: Newsquest)

He said that the “salient, troubling fact” was that this was heard during the window of time when Mr Patience is believed to have been killed.

Mr Patience is believed to have died at some point between August 20 and August 22.

Mr Leach said that the prosecution had said nothing about this “missing man” but that his presence meant that the jury could not be sure that it was Connell who had killed Mr Patience.

Connell had admitted to lying to police at the scene by claiming to believe that Mr Patience was in Scotland when he fact he knew him to be dead inside the house.

The Bolton News: Donald Patience was found dead at the age of 45Donald Patience was found dead at the age of 45 (Image: GMP)

But Mr Leach said that given his history as a user of Class A drugs for most of his adult life, the 39-year-old may simply have told a lie that was "stupid, irrational and hopeless."

Mr Leach said this lie may have been “distasteful” at a time when his friend was “dead and decomposing” in the house.

But he said this did not mean that Connell was guilty of his murder.

Prosecutor Michael Hayton KC had previously made the case to the jury that Connell had exploited Mr Patience for money to buy drugs with and had killed him when this ran out.

The trial had previously heard from Mr Hayton how Mr Patience was an “educated man, with his roots in Scotland” who had often paid Connell and other money for work around his house.

Connell had his own room at Mr Patience’s Ainsworth Road house where he often staid over taking drugs, as he had been doing over the days when Mr Patience is believed to have died.

Mr Leach accepted that Connell killing the 45-year-old after the money “dried up” was an “attractively simple” idea.

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But he reminded the court that there was no CCTV evidence or any eyewitnesses to back this up.

Addressing the jury, he said: "If it's right that Ian Connell was so dependent on Mr Patience for money, how does it make any sense for him to have done what the prosecution says he did?"

He added: "Do any of the financial motives in this case really drive you to the conclusion that the only explanation for Mr Patience's death is that Ian Connell had run out of goodwill so he killed him?"

Connell denies both murder and the lesser charge of manslaughter.

The trial before Mrs Justice Naomi Ellenbogen DBE continues.