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Monday, 24 April, 2000, 09:08 GMT 10:08 UK
Clearer self defence law demanded
Tony Martin
Tony Martin: Jailed for life for murdering burglar
A police authority chief has demanded greater clarity in the law on self defence after a farmer was jailed for the murder of a teenage burglar.

Jim Wilson, chairman of Norfolk Police Authority, has spoken out after Tony Martin was jailed for life for shooting burglar Fred Barras.

Mr Wilson said it was paramount legislators should address the issue in an attempt to put householders' minds at rest.

The law allows householders to use reasonable force to protect their home or themselves.

Mr Wilson's call came as lawyers were preparing to launch an appeal against the Norfolk farmer's conviction, and as officials continued investigating suggestions that jurors may have felt pressurised.
Fred Barras
Fred Barras: 16-year-old burglar killed by Martin

Mr Wilson said, in a letter to the Norwich-based Eastern Daily Press newspaper: "The minds of householders across the country would be set at rest if our legislators could define with greater clarity the law which governs a citizen's right to defend his home and property."

Norfolk had restructured the way it policed the county in a way which should make officers more accessible, he went on.

But he accepted that the police were stretched, saying: "In truth the constabulary has a limited number of officers to deploy 24 hours a day.

"It sorely needs the 66 additional officers the Government has promised to fund over the next two years. Indeed the constabulary needs more.

"Norfolk's taxpayers may well look at police-to-population ratios across the UK and ask why is Norfolk at the bottom of the pile.

"We are a growth county and territorially one of the largest. Many hundreds of thousands of holidaymakers visit us every year, reducing the ratio of a police officer per 1,000 people to an even lower level."

Extra cash pledged

Ministers are planning to tackle rural fears on crime by offering extra cash for policing isolated areas.

The extra grants - likely to run into tens of millions - come after a Home Office study last year into the problems of population density and policing, according to reports.

The move, expected to be set out in the Treasury spending review in July, will come as a welcome relief to ministers facing an outcry over the disappearance of visible police forces in rural areas.

The issue was highlighted by Norfolk farmer Tony Martin, who during his crown court trial claimed he shot burglar Fred Barras out of self defence after the teenager had broken into his home.
Brendon Fearon
Brendan Fearon: Shot by Martin

Martin, 55, of Bleak House, Emneth Hungate, near Emneth, Norfolk, was found guilty of murdering Barras, 16, of Newark, Nottinghamshire, at Norwich Crown Court on Wednesday, following an eight-day trial.

Martin was also convicted of wounding a second burglar, Brendan Fearon, 30, also of Newark, with intent to cause grievous bodily harm.

The farmer was cleared of attempting to murder Fearon and of possessing a pump-action shotgun with intent to endanger life.

Jurors heard that the burglars had been shot after breaking into Martin's isolated home late at night in August.

Shadow home secretary Ann Widdecombe said that the police and Crown Prosecution Service should allow householders greater leeway to use force to protect their property before prosecution was considered.

She said: "I think it's quite right to say have a go as long as one is responsible about it.

"But one of the reasons why people don't intervene is because they are afraid they will end up on the end of a prosecution."

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