Teenage burglar had long record, murder trial told

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The Independent Online

The teenager shot dead by the farmer Tony Martin had a long history of criminal behaviour, including assaults on police, a court was told yesterday. Fred Barras was 16, but he had already made 28 court appearances.

A damning picture of the three men said to have set off to burgle Mr Martin's house was painted yesterday by Anthony Scrivener QC, defending Mr Martin against charges of murder and attempted murder at Norwich Crown Court.

Barras, Brendon Fearon, 30, and Darren Bark, 33, hadaccumulated 115 court appearances between them for offences including violence, theft and burglary. The teenager had convictions for common assault, burglary, theft, handling stolen goods and dangerous driving.

On 20 August last year, the trio set off from Newark, in Nottinghamshire, to Mr Martin'sdilapidated farmhouse near Emneth, Norfolk. Bark dropped off the other two, who broke into the isolated home.

Mr Martin, wakened by the noise, had gone down the darkened stairs and fired a shotgun, killing Barras and injuring Fearon, the court was told.

The 55-year-old farmer denies murdering Barras, the attempted murder of Fearon and wounding him with intent to do grievous bodily harm. He also denies having a firearm and ammunition with intent to endanger life.

Yesterday Fearon took the stand to give his version, admitting he felt blame because he "took the little lad there to get killed". He had been brought from prison, where he is serving a sentence after pleading guilty to conspiracyto burgle Mr Martin's house with Bark.

But he insisted they had not set off to target an "old man's" house as suggested by the defence. Instead they plannedto check an outbuilding for possible burglary, having heard that "nobody had lived there for 100 years".

They had, he said, been chased by a snarling dog. In the dark Barras had clung to his friend in fear. "He was crying and clinging on to my shoulder. I don't think he liked dogs," said Fearon.

Confused by the dark, they had ended up at the main house, he claimed, and, in their fear, accidentally broke a window and climbed in to escape the angry animal. Once inside they had stumbled in the dark through Mr Martin's booby-trapped house, falling over cans, bottles and assorted rubble.

Fearon said he heard a sudden bang and in the muzzleflash from the shotgun saw a man standing on the stairs. Barras cried: "He has got me," and Fearon was shot twice.

"My legs went and I fell down. I came back up. Fred was still at my shoulder shouting and crying," said Fearon. He said he remembered eight or nine loud bangs but had since been told some of them may have been the shots repeating in his head. He said he was certain he definitely heard three very loud blasts. Fearon said he climbed out of the window and staggered through a field, believing Barras was behind him. He managed to get help at a nearby bungalow.

Police say he never mentioned his friend, and Barras's body - which lay concealed in undergrowth near the house - was not found until 14 hours later. But Fearon insisted he had spoken of his companion. "I told him [an ambulance crew member] I had been shot and another lad had been shot," he said.

Mr Scrivener described Fearon's account as rubbish, and suggested the thief had deliberately targeted the house and even gone to check it out weeks earlier. Some of Mr Martin's silverware had been found in two holdalls, which Fearon had taken to the house and left behind, though he denied stealing. "Do you have any explanation for how this silverware got into your holdall?" said Mr Scrivener. Fearon replied: "The farmer put them in to explain his actions."

The QC challenged the thief on various inconsistencies in his story from police interviews and in evidence, saying: "Why did you tell the police an untruth?" Fearon replied: "I was just coming out of sedation [in hospital]. I just wanted to put all the blame on me. I thought, 'You took the little lad there to get killed'."

John Slaughter, a forensic scientist, said tests on the dead boy revealed alcohol, cannabis and amphetamine in his system, though not enough to have had an effect on the night. The alcohol was at the drink-driving limit, the cannabis traces could have been days old, and he had only found residual amounts of amphetamine, which appeared to have been in the system for some while.

Mr Martin has pleaded guilty to possessing a firearm without a licence. The trial continues.