A MINIBUS driver broke down in tears yesterday as he was quizzed about his alleged involvement in the contract killing of West Yorkshire car dealer Christopher Hartley.

Simon Mullen, who denies murdering the 45-year-old man, was giving evidence for a second day to a jury at Bradford Crown Court when he became visibly distressed during cross-examination by prosecution barrister Alistair MacDonald QC.

Mr MacDonald suggested that Mullen, of South Shields, was upset because his story was unravelling, but the defendant said it was because he was accused of doing something horrendous and his family and girlfriend were sat in the public gallery.

Former offshore worker Mullen, who continued giving his evidence after a short break, is alleged to have gunned down Mr Hartley in a lay-by near Clayton West last September.

But the 39-year-old insisted that he didn’t kill Mr Hartley whom he maintained he had never met.

Although Mr Hartley and his ex-gay lover David Large, 35, had been involved in cars, the jury has heard that a drugs factory for making tablets containing BZP was found in a bungalow belonging to the murder victim after the fatal shooting.

Mullen and Large, of Rona Croft, Rothwell, both deny the murder charge.

Mullen, who was on benefits at the time, has admitted he was involved in transporting regular consignments of the tablets back to the North East in exchange of a fee of £500 a trip.

He maintained that on the night of the killing he had been in West Yorkshire to hand over a £5,000 drugs payment and possibly pick up more tablets.

Mullen said he became involved in the drugs operation through his close friend Large, but on the night of the killing Mullen had been due to meet up with Mr Hartley for the first time because Large had gone to London.

Mullen said he could not remember precise details about telephone calls that day because the tablets were just one per cent of his life. That night only became significant about a month later when he was arrested in connection with the alleged murder.

Mr Hartley’s body was discovered with gunshot wounds to the head and chest in Litherop Lane, but Mullen rejected a prosecution suggestion that he had been in the area the day before to ‘case’ the location for the killing.

Mullen admitted he found out about Mr Hartley’s murder two days after the shooting but he said he did not realise that the killing took place close to where he had been due to meet him.

He said he had not given his situation at the time a second thought because he had hadn’t done anything and certainly hadn’t killed him.

The prosecution has alleged that Large, who wanted to continue his relationship with a woman, had recruited Mullen to kill his infatuated former lover.

Mullen said he was not aware that Mr Hartley was gay or that he and Large had had sexual relationships in the past.

The court heard that Mullen got to know Large’s girlfriend Dawn Mallinson through a popular Facebook character he had created called Iris Grey.

Miss Mallinson has alleged that Large contacted Mullen through her Facebook account and used code words to discuss a gun and bullets.

But Mullen insisted that the code words referred only to the tablets they were dealing in and he didn’t know anyone who had guns.

Mullen said he had driven to West Yorkshire with £5,000 in cash on the passenger seat of his vehicle.

He said Large told him to meet Mr Hartley near the Cedar Court Hotel off junction 39 of the M1, but when he arrived in the area there was no sign of him.

During a phone call Large told Mullen to wait for Mr Hartley, but he said he didn’t want to sit in his car and drove off.

The trial continues.