An animal rights activist who piloted a gyrocopter that decapitated a hunt supporter was cleared of manslaughter yesterday.
Bryan Griffiths and his cameraman were trying to take off from Long Marston airfield, Warwickshire, when Trevor Morse was killed while trying to stop them. Mr Morse, 48, was a Warwickshire hunt member.
During the confrontation on 9 March last year Mr Morse stood in the way of the machine and was struck by the rear blades which "cleaved his head from top to bottom".
Mr Griffiths, 55, from Bedworth, Warwickshire, was charged with manslaughter by gross negligence but yesterday a jury at Birmingham Crown Court acquitted him after a two-week trial.
An experienced gyrocopter pilot who had strong anti-hunting sympathies, Mr Griffiths showed no emotion as the verdict was read out. But there were angry gasps and smatterings of applause from spectators in the public gallery.
During the trial jurors had watched a video of Mr Morse's death which was recorded by Peter Bunce, an animal rights activist who had brought fuel for the gyrocopter to the airfield.
In the video Mr Griffiths could be seen asking Mr Morse, from Shipston-on-Sour, to move out of the way because he was preparing to take off. He was seen telling his opponent: "You're obstructing it from taking off, you have no right to do that."
As the hunt enthusiast held his ground, the gyrocopter's engines were revved, moving the rear blades close to Mr Morse's head. The exact impact was not shown to the jury but an unidentified man could be heard saying: "Oh dear. The twat didn't stand clear of it."
Mr Griffiths' defence team had argued that the gyrocopter pilot had tried to steer his aircraft between Mr Morse and a second hunt sympathiser. In his police interview he also claimed that he felt in fear for his life because he believed his gyrocopter had been repeatedly shot at earlier in the day.
The jury also heard how Mr Morse, a road monitor with the hunt, had concocted "a plan" with one of the hunt masters to pen in the gyrocopter with cars to stop it taking off to give hunt sympathisers time to photograph the pilot.
Michael Tipping, a self-described aviation fanatic who witnessed the event, said he had found Mr Morse's manner "intrusive and aggressive".
Julie Sargeant, a hunt sympathiser who accompanied Mr Morse to the airport, broke down in tears in court when she described how her friend had died. Wiping tears from her eyes, she told jurors: "He was just stood there." She said Mr Griffiths had tried to comfort her, but he too was deeply distressed.
Outside court, a friend of Mr Griffiths said he was "devastated" by what had happened.
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