A MAN who unwittingly shared a home with a brutal murderer turned to class A drugs as a coping mechanism, a court heard.

Stephen Christopher Harris, 38, was asleep upstairs in a rented property in Ellesmere Port when housemate Craig Procter bludgeoned young mum Ellia Arathoon to death on October 29 last year.

Initially considered a suspect before becoming a trial witness, Harris, who now lives on Sealand Road, Chester, found himself targeted by several groups within the community.

Chester Magistrates Court heard that he was also racked with guilt that he was unable to do anything to save 29-year-old Miss Arathoon.

He began taking class A drugs, leading him to steal make-up and perfume from Superdrug and Debenhams in the city on June 17 this year to fund his burgeoning addiction.

Distraught and suffering panic attacks in the dock, he pleaded guilty to theft and will be sentenced on December 8 when a report on him will have been prepared by the Probation Service.

Speaking through tears, Harris told magistrates: “The only reason was the murder. I was fighting for my life.”

Richard Thomas, defending, outlined to the court the heavy toll Miss Arathoon's murder had taken on Harris.

He said he was formerly a “cheeky chappy” looking to start his own businesses in removals but matters had spiralled out of control in the past 12 months.

“Mr Harris's life has completely disintegrated,” Mr Thomas said. “Unfortunately around this time last year a murder occurred at the address [he shared with Procter]. A young lady was brutally killed and packed into a suitcase.

“Mr Harris was present in the house asleep when that occurred. He was not involved, however because he was in the house he was arrested and spent three days in Blacon police station.

“He was then released and provided a statement. Ever since that he hasn't been able to cope with life very well.”

Mr Thomas said the defendant had struggled with feelings of guilt since the murder took place.

“If you are in a home when something terrible like that happens you feel guilty, thinking you should have been able to do something to stop it,” he told the court.

Many people in the Ellesmere Port community believed Harris was involved in the killing, leading him to be attacked and have abuse “daubed on his house”.

Later becoming a witness in the trial “caused him enormous problems from another group in the community,” Mr Thomas added.

As it happened, Procter changed his plea to guilty before the trial at Liverpool Crown Court got under way. He was jailed for life last month with a minimum term of 21 years.

“The way, unfortunately, that Mr Harris tried to cope with these problems in his life, none of which were his fault, was to take class A drugs,” Mr Thomas said.

“Now he's absolutely broken. He weighs less than nine stone.”

The court heard Harris has several previous convictions, including one for theft from March this year for which he received a 28-day prison sentence.