Jury clears vineyard owner who opened fire on burglars

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The Independent Online
A vineyard owner who opened fire on two intruders trying to steal wine from his bonded warehouse was yesterday cleared by a jury.

Jon Pritchett, 60, a loss adjuster, was found not guilty at Maidstone Crown Court of wounding Steven Gilbert and Charles O'Hara with intent to cause grievous bodily harm.

The two men had broken into his warehouse containing pounds 12,000 worth of wine at his home in Crouch Lane, St Mary's Platt, near Borough Green, Kent, on 1 December last year.

Mr Pritchett - who had fired four shots from his 12-bore shotgun, two of which struck Gilbert and O'Hara - said after the case: "I feel great now it is all over."

The judge, Mr Justice Newman, had told the vineyard owner after the verdicts which came after four-and-a-half hours of deliberation: "For those of us who have heard the detail of this case and for those who might misunderstand the result, I think one thing is plain.

"The events of this particular night caused you great trauma, such trauma that you suffered a speech impediment for sometime. I think the general lesson that results in this case is the severe consequences of what you did and the consequences on you."

Mr Pritchett's solicitor, Ted Hubbard, said after the hearing: "This case should not have been brought to court.

"Someone in authority in the Crown Prosecution Service should have had a little more understanding of the problems of two criminals being involved and putting a decent well-behaved citizen under stress, particularly in the delay between the incident and Mr Pritchett being charged and between the charges and the trial. But justice has been done."

Mr Pritchett, who has two grown-up married sons, has since stopped producing wine at his vineyard. Shortly before the shooting he had also lost his job through redundancy.

Mr Hubbard added: "This is a man who has had one unfortunate event after another."

Mr Pritchett had denied that he intended to hit the two men on the night he opened fire. In a stammer which developed after the incident, he told the jury: "Standing there in the dark, I was a terrified man. I decided I was going to frighten them. I wanted them off my premises."