Huntsman cleared of murder bid

 

A huntsman has been found not guilty of attempting to kill his former lover by shooting her outside her country home.

Brian Fraser, 63, was alleged to have pulled the trigger "in a fit of pique" in a bid to murder Louise Leggatt as she went to tend her horses at Apple Pie Farm in Benenden, Kent.

Prosecutors claimed he had recently been spurned by Mrs Leggatt who had rejected his efforts to rekindle their romance following the end of their five-year relationship.

But married Fraser, a former joint master of the Ashford Valley Hunt, denied responsibility for the shooting which happened at around 9.30pm on March 15 last year.

At Maidstone Crown Court, he was cleared of attempted murder and an alternative charge of GBH with intent following more than five hours of deliberation at the end of a two-week trial.

He previously admitted possessing a firearm without a licence and will be sentenced on March 18 following a pre-sentence report.

Mrs Leggatt held her head in her hands in the courtroom as the jury forewoman read out the verdict, while Fraser remained emotionless.

Judge Charles Byers warned Fraser that he remained "at risk" of going prison over the firearms offence.

The judge told him: "I have never come across such a lackadaisical and irresponsible attitude to firearms, particularly from someone described as a countryman."

The trial heard how Mrs Leggatt - who worked in a veterinary surgery - was shot as she went to do her routine evening checks on her horses.

She told the court that her dog was barking and seemed unsettled, "as if there was something there that he didn't like" as she stepped outside from her patio door.

As she shone a torch across the garden and shut the patio door, she was shot once, leaving her peppered with shotgun pellets in her bowel and pelvis.

She screamed that she had been hit and managed to stumble back inside her rented home before crawling to her landline telephone to dial 999.

Mrs Leggatt said: "First of all, I heard the sound and then I had a horrendous pain in my leg and hip, and I realised what had happened."

Her experience of going on shoots and of her two sons' involvement with clay pigeon shooting led her to believe she had been targeted with a shotgun.

She added: "I was absolutely terrified. I had never been so terrified in all my life. I was really, really scared that whoever had done it was going to come back in and I couldn't get back to lock the door."

A firearms unit was deployed before paramedics were allowed to reach Mrs Leggatt, who was taken to Pembury Hospital in Tunbridge Wells for surgery.

She told how she met Fraser through hunting circles in the early 2000s. Mrs Leggatt, who finalised a divorce from her husband Philip Gorringe in 2007, allowed Fraser to move into her home in 2006.

Over time their relationship hit difficulties, with disagreements about finances, the lack of time they spent together and Fraser's long working hours, Mrs Leggatt told the jury.

By 2011, they were sleeping in separate rooms. He moved out of her home in November of that year and later went back to his wife Nanette.

When he was arrested, Fraser told officers initially that he was at home with his wife on the evening of the shooting and that he did not own a shotgun.

When CCTV from his home showed him leaving his house that evening, he said he had driven out to several pubs to find an associate who owed him money.

Police found an old, single-barrelled shotgun hidden between two hay bales on his land along with some cartridges.

Fraser initially told police he had not owned a shotgun for 20 years. When officers disclosed that one was found on his land he suggested he was being framed.

Later he went on to admit he did own the gun, telling officers it had been handed down to him by his father.

He said he "panicked" in the initial police interviews because he had been arrested on suspicion of a serious offence and because he did not have a firearms licence.

But he "categorically" denied being responsible for blasting Mrs Leggatt, who he said he had split from amicably and still considered a friend.

Instead Fraser suggested to police that Mr Gorringe might have been the gunman. Mr Gorringe was arrested, questioned but freed without charge.

PA

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