Jury nobbling claims as Martin case row grows

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The Independent Online

The case of a farmer found guilty of murdering a teenage burglar took a dramatic twist yesterday amid claims that the jury had been threatened into convicting him.

Yesterday a heated debate raged between supporters of Tony Martin, who insisted he had been acting in self-defence, and opponents convinced that he murdered 16-year-old Fred Barras in "cold blood".

During one morning phone-in, a woman telephoned Norwich's Radio Broadland, claiming to be a member of the jury that had found Martin guilty of killing the teenager.

The caller said that she had felt under pressure during the case because of possible repercussions and told a disc jockey, Rob Chandler, that the decision "would remain with her for the rest of her life".

Yesterday it remained unclear whether the claim was genuine or a hoax call from some of the Martin's more vociferous supporters.

His solicitor, Nick Makin, said the call merited serious investigation.

A colleague, Michael Ballinger of M and S solicitors, added: "The gist of it seems to be that there was some sort of threat or intimidation to the jury.

"We are certainly concerned about jury intimidation and we will be investigating this matter immediately."

Though the woman's comments were not broadcast directly, they were relayed by Mr Chandler.

It is understood that Mr Makin held a conference with the farmer's counsel, Anthony Scrivener QC, yesterday - having already received claims that a member of the jury had been "nobbled" with threats. The claim has now been passed on to the Crown Prosecution Service.

Peter Tidey, head of Norwich CPS, said: "I'm aware that there was one incident during the trial at which there was communication between the judge and the jury," he said.

But he added that security of the jurors had been an issue throughout the trial.

"If there's a complaint that an offence has been committed then the constabulary is going to have to investigate," said Mr Tidey.

Martin was jailed for life on Wednesday after the jury heard that he had acted as "jury, judge and executioner" when he fired a pump-action shotgun at two intruders. Barras died within minutes while his friend Brendon Fearon was seriously injured in both legs.

Norwich Crown Court had heard evidence that the 55-year-old farmer, who lived alone with three ferocious rottweilers in a dilapidated farmhouse, had harboured a "vitriolic" hatred of criminals and gypsies.

He had, the prosecution said, shot at the two thieves like "rats in a barrel" on 20 August last year.

The case has been marked by tension on both sides and there was a heavy police presence during the eight-day crown court trial, with some defence witnesses granted special permission to withhold their names because of "fears for their safety".

The case has inspired debate, with divided opinion.

"I would think 95 per cent of the population would have done the same thing if they hadn't died of fright first. Of course, it would have been more politically correct if Martin had allowed himself to be murdered but he chose a third, better option," said one local, Malcolm Starr.

Millionaire Peter Cadbury, who donated £1,000 to Martin's defence fund, added: "I have had a loaded gun by my bed for the last 40 years, but in July last year, when a burglar took every piece of jewellery my wife had and my wallet and a lot else, he took the gun too.

"So I am now reduced to a cross-bow, that I wouldn't hesitate to use if a burglar broke in late at night," the 82-year-old said.

However, John Wadham, of the civil rights group Liberty, said householders should use only "minimum force" to protect their property, adding: "The right to life, even of criminals, must be respected."

Locals in the Norfolk communities of Emneth and Emneth Hungate, where the farmer lived, have been highly supportive of him.

An innocuous arable farming community of modest homes, the fear of crime is obvious as well as a distrust of travel-lers. Most houses bear "Beware of Dogs" signs with the postscript "No scrap dealers".

Guns are also a common part of life. Within one local pub two shotguns hang prominently above the fireplace, flanking a picture made entirely of gun cartridges.

One old man said those who lived in the low-lying Fenlands of eastern England like to think of themselves as self-sufficient.

"All Fen people would have done the same. We are independent people. I would have blown them away myself. We all hoped he would get off because they got what they deserved," he said.

As well as life, Martin was given 10 concurrent years for wounding Fearon with intent to do him grievous bodily harm. He also received 12 concurrent months after admitting possessing a firearm without a certificate.

He was found not guilty of attempting to murder Fearon and possession of a firearm with intent to endanger life.

The defence team has already announced its decision to appeal on the grounds of material misdirections by the judge.

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