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Saturday, 25 November, 2000, 01:16 GMT
Jailed for handling Tony Martin antiques
bleak house
Martin: 'I think the burglary was a personal attack on me'
A man has been imprisoned for two years after admitting handling 6,000 worth of antique furniture stolen from the home of jailed farmer Tony Martin.

Christopher Webster, 41, of Loughborough, was part of a team involved in raiding Bleak House, Martin's isolated farmhouse at Emneth, Norfolk, in May 1999, Norwich Crown Court heard.

When a second burglary took place at Martin's home three months later, the farmer shot dead Fred Barras, 16, and wounded his accomplice Brendan Fearon, 30, both of Newark.

He was sentenced to life at Norwich in April, ater a jury heard how Martin had opened fire at close range after the two burglars broke in through a window.


He feels he may have contributed to the death of a young boy

Neil Fitzgibbon
Webster's lawyer said Mr Barras's death had been preying on his conscience, the court was told on Friday.

"He feels he may have contributed to the death of a young boy and Mr Martin's incarceration," Neil Fitzgibbon said in mitigation.

Webster had asked Mr Fitzgibbon to apologise to everyone that "his involvement had had the effect it had", the court heard.

Ian James, prosecuting, read the court a statement in which Martin told police that the May burglary had left him feeling "vulnerable" after the raiders took property which belonged to his family.


The shock of seeing property which is part of my inheritance missing from the house really affected me

Tony Martin

"I think the burglary was a personal attack on me," said Martin, in the statement.

"I am a very private person and the break in made me feel very vulnerable.

"The shock of seeing property which is part of my inheritance missing from the house really affected me.

"I feel very strongly about losing these articles of furniture that belonged to my predecessors.

"I feel I have let them down."

The court was told how Webster accompanied burglars who drove from Newark to Emneth, then loaded stolen furniture - including a bureau, chests of drawers, and table china - into his van.

Family problems

Judge Paul Downes told Webster: "The handling came as close to burglary as it was possible to be because you came as part of a team and you must have known."

Webster denied conspiracy to burgle and the judge ruled that the charge should lie on the file.

He had been due to appear in court at Norwich in July but disappeared shortly after the hearing began.

Mr Fitzgibbon said on Friday that Webster had run away because he had family problems and had decided that he wanted to be free to resolve them.

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