Slaughterman in farm cull cleared of bolt-gun killing

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The Independent Online

A slaughterman accused of killing a friend with a gun he was using to cull animals during the foot-and-mouth crisis was cleared of manslaughter yesterday.

Keith Hubbard, aged 38, had denied killing 27-year-old Steven Smart at a mass slaughter site at Great Orton airfield, Cumbria, in April last year.

The court was told that the incident took place while Mr Hubbard and Mr Smart, from St Leonards, East Sussex, were "mucking around". After almost six hours of deliberation, the jury at Preston Crown Court returned a not guilty verdict on Mr Hubbard, from Atherstone, Warwickshire.

Mr Hubbard had told the court that he had loaded and primed his bolt gun after killing a sheep, and stumbled over the bodies of dead animals.

He told the court: "I lost my footing and the gun went off. I do not know if it was connected. It happened so quickly. I imagine they were connected.

"I wish things were different. It does not matter what I say, it will not bring him back. He was a friend. I have got to live with that for the rest of my life."

However, the prosecution claimed Mr Hubbard had committed an unlawful and dangerous act by putting the gun to his colleague's head. Mr Smart was heard to say: "Are you going to shoot that thing? Is that a gun or a hairdryer in your hand?"

The jury heard from two witnesses, one who claimed to have seen Mr Hubbard put his arm around Mr Smart's shoulders, and another who saw him holding the bolt gun to the left side of Mr Smart's head. Mr Hubbard told the jury that he did not remember either action. Mr Smart died in hospital 12 hours after the incident.

Mr Smart's family, and his fiancée, Carina Weston, criticised the verdict. His father, Ted, said: "I sat in court all week listening to the evidence they have given and how they can find him not guilty I cannot understand. They have two eye-witnesses who saw the accident and saw him put the gun to Steven's head. Steven was a brilliant son and a good mate."

Mr Smart's mother, Joan, added: "This has left a massive gap in our lives that will never be filled."

A captive bolt gun fires a three-inch steel bolt, which goes through the skull and into the brain of an animal before retracting back into the device. A cartridge is used to fire the bolt.

Mr Hubbard did not react as the jury returned its verdict, but his family and friends wept with relief.