Farmer cleared of murdering burglar could be freed in a year

Tony Martin Appeal
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The Independent Online

Tony Martin, the farmer who became a cause celêbre when he shot and killed a burglar, was told yesterday he could be out of jail within a year as the Court of Appeal reduced his conviction from murder to manslaughter.

The 55-year-old's legal team said the decision was like having "a glass half empty, half full" and pledged to seek leave to appeal to the House of Lords to "clear his name".

His solicitor, James Saunders, said Martin was "relieved" that he was no longer deemed a murderer and that there was "light at the end of the tunnel", but this was tinged with regret that he had not been freed.

The eccentric loner, who lived in Emneth, Norfolk, was convicted of murdering Fred Barras, 16, and wounding his companion, Brendan Fearon, now 30, at Norwich Crown Court last April.

The farmer, the prosecution claimed, had acted as "jury, judge and executioner" when he fired his illegal pump-action shotgun at the intruders, catching them like "rats in a barrel" on 20 August 1999. Martin, who had been burgled several times, insisted he was acting in terror and self-defence.

Yesterday the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Woolf, along with Mr Justice Wright and Mr Justice Grigson, reduced the conviction on the grounds of diminished responsibility, cutting Martin's life sentence to five years. They also reduced his 10-year sentence for wounding with intent to three.

"In view of the time Mr Martin has already spent in custody, within about a year Mr Martin will be eligible for consideration for parole," Lord Woolf said.

The judges accepted fresh psychiatric evidence that Martin had had a paranoid personality disorder. But Lord Woolf said: "We must make it clear that an extremely dangerous weapon cannot be used in the manner in which it was used by Mr Martin that night ... the jury were surely correct in coming to their judgment that he was not acting reasonably."

The dead boy's uncle, Tony Joynes, 39, said yesterday that the teenager's family would be "traumatised" and "devastated" by the court's decision.

Detective Inspector Matt Sharman, one of the senior investigating officers, said: "The investigation was carried out thoroughly and professionally and the judgment of the court today endorsed this fact."

The judges rejected arguments that the new evidence supported Martin's case that he acted in self-defence. A concurrent 12-month sentence imposed on Martin after he admitted possessing a firearm without a licence remains.

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