Page last updated at 14:35 GMT, Tuesday, 21 October 2008 15:35 UK

Buckle 'may have triggered death'

A conservationist killed by his shotgun in County Durham could have died after his weapon was triggered by a buckle on his boot, an inquest has heard.

Stephen Hall Franklin was carrying a gun which discharged, hitting him in the neck and head in August 2007.

The 58-year-old from Norfolk, a trustee of the Otter Trust charity, was on Thornhope Moor grouse shooting.

A police firearms expert told the inquest it was possible Mr Franklin's shotgun was triggered by accident.

The married father-of-two was at Newlands Farm, near Frosterley, Weardale, and was being towed on a chariot by the Otter Trust's northern reserve gamekeeper and warden.

To carry a fully loaded and made ready firearm is very dangerous
Pc Christopher Barber

A firearms expert from Durham Police told the inquest in Darlington that Mr Franklin's gun, a double barrelled shotgun, had recently been serviced and was in "good working order".

Pc Christopher Barber tested the weapon and concluded it could not have gone off unless something had hit or pulled the first trigger, which discharged the right barrel.

The officer said: "He was wearing Wellingtons with very, very prominent buckles on the outside and from some tests I did seated in the chariot with the shotgun propped on the floor by my side, the location of the buckle on the boot was very close to the trigger mechanism.

'Cavalier attitude'

"If there was any movement of the foot or the gun and the unfortunate situation arose where the two met it was possible for the buckle to enter the trigger guard and, if the weapon was being carried without the safety mechanism engaged and loaded, cause the gun to go off."

Pc Barber added that Mr Franklin could have reached the trigger to fire the gun himself, and said: "To carry a fully loaded and made ready firearm is very dangerous and cannot be condoned."

His wife of 27 years, Julie, who runs a bed and breakfast in Wacton, near Diss in Norfolk, said she admired her husband but could be infuriated by his cavalier attitude to his own safety.

Mr Franklin was HIV positive but had responded well to treatment and was in good health.

The inquest continues.


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