Farmer gets life for shooting teenage intruder

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The Independent Online

A farmer who shot dead a teenage burglar was jailed for life yesterday after a jury found him guilty of murder.

Tony Martin was convicted of killing16-year-old Fred Barras after a court heard how the 55-year-old bachelor acted as "jury, judge and executioner" when he fired his illegal pump-action shotgun at two intruders, catching them like "rats in a barrel".

The teenager died within minutes from a fatal shot to his back while his friend Brendon Fearon, 30, was seriously injured in the legs.

Yesterday Detective Chief Inspector Martin Wright, the senior investigating officer, said: "The lesson this sends to the public is that they should not take the law into their own hands. It is up to the police and criminal justice system to progress these things."

The jury of six men and six women took just under 10 hours to reject Martin's claim of self-defence and find him guilty on a majority verdict of 10-2 of murdering Barras and wounding Fearon with intent to do him grievous bodily harm. The farmer stared without emotion at them as they returned the verdicts to loud cheers from the teenager's family. As he was led away to start his sentence, one of them yelled: "I hope you die in jail."

Yesterday Martin's mother, Hilary, 86, said: "I am devastated, shocked and upset. Because of this verdict decent people will not be able to sleep at night. He was merely defending himself against people who were thieves and vagabonds."

Yesterday Martin's friend Richard Portham said: "Tony Martin has been sent to prison for a crime committed in terror. The jury's decision will have devastating consequences for the safety of people in their own homes."

Peter Tidey, Chief Crown Prosecutor for Norfolk, said: "The law allows for reasonable force in defending yourself ... but it was clear when we reviewed the evidence in this case that Martin had gone far beyond the amount of force which the ordinary person would consider to be reasonable."

The judge, Mr Justice Owen, said: "It seems to me that this case does serve as a dire warning to all burglars. The law is that every citizen is entitled to use reasonable force to prevent crime. The householder in his own home may think he is being reasonable but he may not be reasonable and that can have tragic consequences."

The court had earlier heard that Martin, who lived in squalor in his dilapidated farmhouse, had repeatedly talked of shooting criminals and had boobytrapped his home.

On the night of 20 August last year, when Barras and Fearon broke into his home in Emneth Hungate, Norfolk, he took a gun from under his bed, loaded it and fired it without warning.

Barras, screaming in pain, cried out for his mother before crawling into undergrowth, where his body was found the following day.

Yesterday, his mother, Ellen, and father, Fred, said: "As Fred's family, we cannot and do not condone his actions. We are aware that he had failings and would have expected him to be dealt with and punished in the criminal justice system. He was not given that chance."

Pointing out that he was just 16 and the "baby of our family", they added: "Fred was fun-loving and always happy with no mean streak. He was devoted and a loving son and brother.

"The outcome of this trial cannot bring him back and our loss has torn our lives apart."

As well as life imprisonment, Martin was sentenced to 10 concurrent years for wounding Fearon with intent. He was also sentenced to a further 12 concurrent months after admitting possession of a firearm without a certificate.

The jury found Martin not guilty of attempting to murder Fearon and possession of a firearm and ammunition with intent to endanger life.

Fearon and accomplice Darren Bark, who drove the trio to the house, were jailed at an earlier court hearing after they admitted conspiracy to burgle Martin's home.