THE family of a former boxer who suffered fatal injuries following a ‘brutal’ attack on New Year’s Eve have spoken of their heartache.

Mark Denton was discovered with cuts to head, neck and chest, believed to have been caused by an ice axe, following an altercation at a party in Hartlepool.

The 31-year-old, formerly ranked second in the country in the middleweight division, was taken to hospital for treatment, but died of his injuries a short time after he discovered at 10.20pm on Tuesday.

Teams of forensic officers from Cleveland Police have been working at the house in Hutton Avenue throughout today (Thursday, January 2).

A family tribute, issued through the force, reads: “We are absolutely devastated and heartbroken to have lost Mark in such a tragic way.

"He was a loving uncle, brother, son and boyfriend and he will be sadly missed by everyone. Our hearts will never heal from the loss of Mark, he was a larger-than-life character and our loss is immeasurable.

"We now ask for privacy to be allowed to deal with our grief.”

Witnesses to the incident are being sought by detectives as they attempt to piece together exactly what happened in the house leading up to the fatal altercation.

Detective Chief Inspector Anne-Marie Salwey, who is leading the investigation, said: “My thoughts are with the family and specially trained officers are supporting them.

"It’s heart-breaking to lose a loved one in tragic circumstances, but it’s even more difficult at this time of year.

“This was a brutal attack on Mark and we are concentrating on speaking to people who went to the party on Hutton Avenue.

"Frightened witnesses may have left the scene quickly and it’s these people that we are keen to speak to.

“This is a large scale investigation - we have set up a Major Incident Room with forensic, detective and uniformed teams following up lines of enquiry and information as it comes in.”

A force spokeswoman said a 17-year-old youth, a 23-year-old and a man in his 20s have all been arrested on suspicion of murder and are in police custody.

Anyone with information on the incident is asked to call police on the non-emergency number 101 or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.