Page last updated at 20:55 GMT, Monday, 20 October 2008 21:55 UK

Conservationist killed by own gun

A conservationist on a moorland grouse shoot in County Durham was killed by his own shotgun, an inquest has heard.

Stephen Hall Franklin, was being towed on a trailer across a track when his loaded shotgun discharged, hitting him in the neck and head in August 2007.

The 58-year-old from Norfolk, a trustee of conservation charity The Otter Trust, was on Thornhope Moor to try to bag a red grouse, the inquest heard.

The gun went off "within inches" of his face and he was killed instantly.

The married father-of-two had travelled to Newlands Farm, near Frosterley, Weardale where he met the Otter Trust's northern reserve gamekeeper and warden, Alan Collingwood.

Boggy track

Mr Collingwood, who was riding a quad which was towing the barrister, told the inquest in Darlington: "We were going slower than walking pace because it was moorland track which was quite boggy and is in places deeply rutted.

"If there is someone in the back it can be quite bouncy and the chariot will move about.

"I heard the gun and immediately looked round expecting to see a grouse but it was Mr Franklin who was shot. He was in a sitting position then he fell off."

Home office pathologist Dr Jennifer Hamilton said the gun had been pointing at Mr Fanklin's head when it went off, hitting him from an acute angle below the chin in the left side of the neck and causing "very substantial" damage to his neck, spine, skull and brain.

Cross-examining Mr Collingwood, James Mason said: "During the whole of that time there was nothing whatsoever that led you for one moment then or now to think he was preoccupied with any problem at all?"

Mr Collingwood said there was "nothing whatsoever" by Mr Franklin's demeanour to suggest there was anything wrong.

The inquest continues.

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