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The BBC's Peter Hunt
"The case has highlighted the very real problems that people in rural communities have with crime"
 real 28k

Wednesday, 19 April, 2000, 14:40 GMT 15:40 UK
The farmer who feared crime
Tony Martin
Tony Martin: Guilty of murdering teenage burglar
Farmer Tony Martin was an eccentric who lived alone in a remote and near-derelict farm called Bleak House.

He was fearful of crime but told friends he was prepared to defend his property.

When two burglars broke into his squalid Norfolk house last August he was true to his word.

He opened fire with an illegally held pump action shotgun, murdering 16-year-old Fred Barras and seriously injuring Brendan Fearon.

Fred Barras
Fred Barras: Shot in the back from 12ft away
His neighbour Peter Hansard was not surprised by his actions.

"I think it was something that was waiting to happen," he said.

"If it hadn't happened now it would have happened in a year or two years' time. Very volatile character."

Martin was eccentric in the extreme. He slept with his clothes and boots on, he lived in near-darkness and squalor.

Those who knew him knew his views on crime.

Anthony Bone, a former police officer met him at a public meeting to discuss the introduction of a farm watch scheme.

He says it was clear Martin had little faith in the law.

Brendan Fearon
Brendan Fearon: Seriously injured in the attack
"Tony's idea seems to be, let's stop everybody joining this, let's do it my way, to take the law into one's own hands presumably," Mr Bone said.

"He said that self-protection was the only way."

Since the shootings Martin had not returned to Bleak House. He had been on bail but in hiding. There is reportedly a contract on his life.

His home has been protected by the police 24 hours a day at great expense.

But he has told his friends, many of whom do not want to be identified because of the threats, he still thinks what he did on that August night was right.

Beyond the law

"He told me he wasn't aware he'd hit anybody, he said the first shot blinded and deafened him and he just kept firing," one of them said.

"I think he's sorry that somebody actually died, but he honestly believes that once they stepped into his house they're beyond the law anyway."

To many in the rural community, Martin represented somebody fighting back against the rising tide of crime, but the jury decided what he did went way beyond self defence.

Fred Barras was shot in the back from 12 feet. He died within seconds.

His family sat through every day of the trial at Norwich Crown Court. Detective Chief Inspector Martin Wright says they should not be forgotten.

"What must be very much uppermost in people's minds is the feelings and sensitivity of the family because at the end of the day we've had a young 16-year-old boy who has met a very premature and violent death," he said.

Gun history

Jurors were not told that Tony Martin had a history of misbehaviour with guns dating back more than 20 years.

Neither did they know that police found a sawn-off shotgun hidden in Martin's garage.

Martin pleaded not guilty to possessing the shortened gun and ammunition at a crown court hearing earlier this year.

In 1976, Martin shot a pigeon with a First World War revolver after a row at his house.

In 1987, Martin used a shotgun to smash windows at his brother's house.

His brother subsequently moved abroad.

Jurors were told how Martin had fired a shot at a car six years ago - an incident which led to his shotgun certificate being revoked.

The 24-hour guard around Bleak House is now being scaled down as Martin starts his sentence.

The jury decided Martin was not defending his property on 20 August but taking the law into his own hands.

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