BBC pays £4,500 to Tony Martin burglar for interview

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The Independent Online

The BBC has paid £4,500 for an exclusive interview with Brendan Fearon, who was jailed for his part in the burglary that led to the Norfolk farmer Tony Martin shooting dead an intruder.

The payment will plunge the BBC into "chequebook journalism" controversy. This week, Michael Howard pledged that under a Tory government, criminals would not be allowed to benefit from writing about their crimes. The BBC said it was in the public interest that Fearon should contribute to the debate on householders' right to protect their home. The interview, the first time Fearon has spoken to the media, is in a drama-documentary the BBC is making about the Martin case, which will include an interview with him.

Martin killed Fred Barras, 16, at his isolated farmhouse, Bleak House, in 1999. He was jailed for life but released in 2003 after his conviction was reduced to manslaughter. Fearon, then 29, was sentenced to three years for conspiracy to burgle.

A BBC spokesman said: "Given that Mr Fearon is the only person apart from Tony Martin who is alive and a witness to what happened ... and because there is currently public controversy about householders' rights to protect their homes from intruders, it is extremely important the public hear the fullest possible account."

Marcus Temple, director of the independent production company Firefly, which is making the documentary, said: "For the first time the real story of what happened that night will be told in precise detail. Viewers will be able to make their own minds up about the rights and wrongs of the case."

In 2003, the Press Complaints Commission cleared the Daily Mirror for paying Mr Martin a six-figure sum for an interview. It accepted the paper's argument that there was a public interest defence.

But the BBC's payment sits uneasily with a promise made by its head of current affairs, Peter Horrocks, last year, that the BBC would not get involved in chequebook journalism.

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