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Last Updated: Friday, 13 June, 2003, 11:57 GMT 12:57 UK
Tony Martin: Crime and controversy
Tony Martin
Martin killed a burglar and sparked fierce national debate
Farmer Tony Martin became a focus of huge national debate after shooting dead a teenager who was burgling his home.

The incident ignited a furore in Britain over issues such as rural crime and the rights to defend property.

Many vigorously supported the then 54-year-old, but others dismissed him as a violent eccentric who chose to act as a vigilante.

The case continues to attract controversy, with the ongoing attempts of Brendon Fearon, an accomplice of the teenage burglar, to sue Martin for injuries sustained during the incident.

The episode began in August 1999 when 16-year-old Fred Barras, and 33-year-old Fearon, broke into Martin's remote, semi-derelict farmhouse in Emneth Hungate, Norfolk.

Police outside Bleak House
Martin's farm was extremely remote and had been burgled many times
Martin, who was in the house at the time, opened fire with an illegally-held pump-action shotgun.

Barras was shot in the back and died at the scene, while Fearon was shot in the leg and recovered after treatment in hospital.

Three days later, Martin was taken into police custody and charged with murder and wounding with intent.

The case caused an immediate furore, with local supporters protesting outside the remand hearing.

It became apparent that Martin's orchard farm and home, called Bleak House, had been plagued by crime for years.

Gun history

Martin had been burgled so many times that he had set up an elaborate network of look-out ladders and traps, even removing a stair to hinder intruders.

Three months before the shooting, crooks had broken into the house and taken 6,000 worth of furniture.

Fred Barras
Burglar Fred Barras, 16, was killed while fleeing Martin's house
Martin distrusted the police and was said to have begun fearing for his life. He slept with his clothes and boots on and reportedly kept his gun primed and ready by his bedside.

When his trial began in April 2000 Martin argued that he had genuinely been acting in self-defence.

But it emerged the pair had been shot as they tried to flee through a window.

'Mind of a child'

Jurors also heard that Martin had a history of gun-related misbehaviour, including firing upon a car six years before - an incident which led to his shotgun certificate being revoked.

Brendan Fearon
Fearon, who was injured, tried to sue Martin for loss of earnings
Norwich Crown Court decided he had gone beyond self-defence, and convicted him of murder - for which he was automatically sentenced to life.

The verdict sparked even more argument, with campaigners calling it "monstrous". Martin received thousands of supportive letters in prison.

He began an appeal immediately. In court he argued he had suffered from a paranoid personality disorder which diminished his responsibility.

His barrister told the court Martin had suffered sexual abuse as a child and "considered himself a boy of about ten".

Burglar sues

The court found in Martin's favour and in October 2001 his offence was downgraded to manslaughter and his sentence reduced to five years.

Hall and stairs inside Martin's house
Martin's appeal lawyers said he was like a child

But the controversy did not end there.

Fearon, who had more than 30 criminal convictions, is now trying to sue Martin for damages as a result of being shot.

He has asked for a reported 15,000 for loss of earnings, claiming he can no longer enjoy sex or bear to see shootings on television.

Fearon is himself currently in jail, after being convicted in February of this year on drugs charges and jailed for 18 months.

The case is likely to be heard once both Fearon and Martin have been freed.

Future security

Martin has also continued to make front pages as he has wrestled with the parole board for early release from prison.

Bleak House exterior
Martin did not trust the police and slept with his clothes on
He is due for automatic release on 28 July, when he will have served two-thirds of his sentence, but this could have been brought forward to as early as September last year.

The parole board, however, has continually refused him early release - saying he has shown no remorse and would continue to pose a danger to any other burglars.

Martin argues he has made plans to ensure peace and security on his eventual return home.

He has discussed protecting his home with electronic gates and an air raid siren, and has been given a specific police contact to call in case of trouble.

This has not stopped commentators worrying that he will therefore be vulnerable to revenge attacks from Fearon's supporters - who have reportedly put a bounty on his head, worth tens of thousands of pounds.

Tony Martin 'a dangerous man'
27 May 03  |  Norfolk
Martin loses early release appeal
08 May 03  |  England
Martin's parole bid fails
16 Jan 03  |  England

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