An animal rights enthusiast who piloted a gyrocopter which killed a hunt supporter was today cleared of manslaughter.
Warwickshire Hunt member Trevor Morse died on March 9 last year when he was struck by the blade of a gyrocopter at Long Marston airfield.
Jurors at Birmingham Crown Court took seven and a half hours to clear pilot Bryan Griffiths, 55, of manslaughter by gross negligence.
Griffiths showed no reaction as the verdict was delivered but there were gasps and some applause from supporters in the public gallery.
During the two-week trial, the court heard that Mr Morse's head was cleaved "from top to bottom" by the blade of the gyrocopter as he tried to stop it from taking off.
Mr Morse, 48, refused to move out of the way as Griffiths went towards him; the rear propellor of the aircraft, moving at a speed approaching 200mph, cut his head from top to bottom, killing him instantly, the court heard.
Griffiths had been monitoring the hunt from the air and had stopped at the airfield, near Stratford-upon-Avon, to re-fuel.
Jurors heard he believed he had been shot at from the ground and feared a "gang" was on the way to attack him.
The incident was caught on camera by the man who brought fuel to the airfield - Peter Bunce, and jurors watched an edited video of the confrontation.
The jury heard that Mr Morse, a road monitor with the hunt, and one of the hunt masters had "a plan" to prevent the gyrocopter from taking off when it stopped to refuel.
Anthony Spencer, one of the hunt's six masters, said they had agreed to "pin it in" and keep it on the ground so they could take photographs of the pilot.
An eye witness described how Mr Morse arrived at the airfield in his blue Land Rover, which he parked at the nose of the gyrocopter, and began taking pictures.
Michael Tipping, who described himself as an "aviation fanatic", told the court he found Mr Morse's manner "intrusive and aggressive".
Mr Tipping was at the scene of the stand-off and had chatted to Griffiths about the gyrocopter before Mr Morse arrived.
He said: "When I spoke to him asking what he took pictures of my car for, my mind said to me: 'You don't want to mess with this man'".
Speaking outside the court, Judy Gilbert, a hunt monitor and friend of Mr Griffiths, said: "We just wanted to say how absolutely delighted and relieved we are that Mr Griffiths has been found not guilty.
"Of course we always knew ourselves that he was never guilty of any crime and he certainly didn't mean anybody any harm and it's just so sad to us that this tragedy has happened because people want to chase animals for sport and kill them, when it has been made illegal by our parliament.
"I'm sure he's absolutely devastated it happened.
Asked about his reaction to the acquittal, she added: "I haven't spoken to him for long but I'm sure he is very, very relieved, of course he is.
"He's a decent man, he's one of the most decent, honest, straight people that I have ever met in my life and it was just sad to see him go through this terrible trauma for the last year."Reuse content