Farmer accused of killing burglar 'vowed to shoot thieves or gypsies'

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The Independent Online

In the months before he killed a teenage burglar, farmer Tony Martin had repeatedly threatened to shoot any thieves or "gypsies".

The 55-year-old, who had booby-trapped his dilapidatedhome in anticipation of a break in, displayed "vitriolic" hatred towards criminals. "He talked of putting gypsies in one of his fields, surrounded by barbed wire, and machine-gunning them," Rosamund Horwood-Smart QC, for the prosecution, told the Norwich Crown Court jury at the opening of the murder trial yesterday.

On the night 16-year-old Fred Barras and his friend Brendon Fearon, 26, both of Newark, Nottinghamshire, broke into the house, Mr Martin took a pump action shotgun and fired several times at them.

The teenager's last words, after being fatally wounded in the back, were for his mother. "He has got me. I am sorry. Please don't. Mum," he said before climbing out of a window. It was not until the following afternoon - on 21 August last year - that his body was found in nearby undergrowth.

Mr Martin has denied the murder of Fred Barras, attempted murder of Fearon, as well as wounding him with intent to do grievous bodily harm and a further count of possession of a firearm and ammunition with intent to endanger life.

Ms Horwood-Smart saidthe defendant lived alone at Bleak House, near Emneth, Norfolk, with his three rottweilers. Ladders had been tied to trees and the roofs of outbuildings in what could be viewed as a series of "lookout posts", she said.Pointing to police photographs, she told the jury: "You can see the booby trap at the top of the landing. The top three steps have been removed."

The farmer's fear of crime was reinforced three months before the shooting when burglars had stolen antiques from his house. "When he reported the burglary, which he did shortly after midnight on May 13, he told police that the burglars had left some furniture outside and they may be back and if they did return he would blow their heads off," Ms Horwood-Smart said. "Mr Martin was well known for his strong views which he made clear to officers attending the May burglary. He was vitriolic about criminals, especially gypsies."

Fearon, she said, had instigated the burglary and convinced friend Darren Bark, 33, to act as driver. It was only on the day in question that Fred Barras had decided to join in.

Upon arriving at Bleak House, Bark agreed to return in half an hour and the two others entered the grounds. Frightened away from the cottage by snarling dogs, they retreated to the main house and broke in through a window. "[Fearon] heard a noise and shone his torch towards the stairs," Ms Horwood-Smart said. "He saw a man standing on the stairs and then he heard Barras shout 'he has got me'. At the same time he heard a loud bang."

He described two more shots which hit him in the left and right legs. "In his panic and in his fear he managed to pull the whole window out of the wall," she said. Fearon fled threw the window with Fred Barras following. But he only managed to crawl 15 metres and would have died within minutes, the court heard. Badly injured, Fearon managed todrag himself to a nearby house where he got help and was taken to hospital.

Meanwhile, Mr Martin took his gun and drove around the property looking for the burglars, passing only a few metres from Fred Barras's body.

Fearon, who did not reveal that night that he had an accomplice or even that he was taking part in a burglary, was later arrested as was Bark. Mr Martin dropped his gun off at his mother's house before going to stay with a friend at their hotel in Wisbech, where he was later arrested.

He told police that he had found the gun which he kept under his bed for fear of burglary. He said that, having been disturbed that night, he loaded it and went halfway down the stairs. "At that point the torch was pointed at him. He took aim and fired a shot below the height of the torch. He continued firing until the gun was empty," Ms Horwood-Smart said. "[Mr Martin] said repeatedly that he thought he was in danger.".

Ballistics experts later estimated that the men were shot at a distance of approximately four metres and Mr Martin could not have been on the stairs. Some of the shots may have hit both men.

Fearon and Bark later pleaded guilty to conspiracy to burgle and were jailed in January. Mr Martin has admitted possessing a firearm without a licence.