Farmer Convicted of Manslaughter Angry at Police, UK Justice System

By Mike Wendling | July 7, 2008 | 8:13 PM EDT

London ( - A farmer convicted of manslaughter after shooting to death a burglar expressed anger at the British police and legal system in a paid-for newspaper interview published Tuesday.

The arrest and trial of Tony Martin sparked controversy in Britain about firearms and the rights of landowners to defend their property.

On Tuesday, the Daily Mirror tabloid newspaper published an interview with Martin. Reports said the paper paid the farmer about $200,000 for his story, a deal that critics charge runs contrary to the voluntary Press Complaints Commission code of conduct.

Martin served 40 months of a five-year prison sentence and was denied parole on several occasions before being released Monday.

"I'm not bitter ...(But) I didn't get justice. I got rough justice. I can't even find the words to describe what I have been through," he said.

Despite stepped-up security measures around Martin's farm in rural eastern England, he criticized the authorities and expressed fear that he would again be the target of burglars.

"If someone wants to break in, they will break in. No lights are going to stop them," he said.

"The police are looking after me. Isn't that a case of shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted?" he told the paper. "If they'd done something as simple as listening to my worries, none of this would have happened. Now, I have my own police force. The world has gone quite, quite mad."

Payment criticized

Lawmakers from all of the main political parties condemned the decision by the Daily Mirror to buy Martin's story.

A former Conservative home affairs spokeswoman, Ann Widdecombe, said she supported the law being bolstered to protect homeowners but told BBC radio: "Martin was found guilty by a court of law. It is extraordinary that he is being paid."

The PCC code of conduct forbids payment to convicted criminals except in cases of "public interest."

But Martin's supporters say the money is needed to pay the farmer's legal bills and to rebuild his farmhouse in the county of Norfolk, which has fallen into disrepair.

The editor of the paper, Piers Morgan, contended that the story was indeed in the public interest.

Martin's representative in Parliament, Conservative MP Henry Bellingham, said the farmer was facing "huge legal bills."

The PCC opened an investigation into the case Tuesday. An independent body formed by newspaper and magazine editors, the commission has the power to force papers to print apologies or corrections but cannot levy fines.

Martin shot to death 16-year-old Fred Barras and shot and wounded 33-year-old Brendon Fearon in August 1999. He was originally convicted of murder and given a life sentence, but the charge was reduced on appeal

Fearon, who was in a separate prison serving a sentence for an unrelated drug dealing offense, was released just days before Martin, sparking an internal inquiry by the Home Office, the governmental department responsible for law and order.

In a statement released Tuesday, Home Secretary David Blunkett cleared Prison Service officials of wrongdoing.

"I am now satisfied that the date of Mr. Fearon's release...was determined entirely in accordance with established procedures and that there was no improper interference despite the circumstances," he said.

But Blunkett promised to push for changes in the law to protect landowners. Fearon has threatened to sue Martin for damages in civil court, and under current British law, he can claim taxpayer-funded legal aid to pursue the case.

"I will ensure that those intruding on the lives and property of decent citizens will not be able to turn the tables and sue them," Blunkett said, adding that he would introduce an amendment to a criminal justice bill currently in front of Parliament to "protect the rights of householders."

"This by its very nature will rule out access to legal aid," he said.

Blunkett also ordered local police to investigate reports of death threats against Martin and asked newspapers to turn over any information they have about such threats.

Several British media outlets have reported in recent days that friends of Barras are looking for revenge against the farmer.

See Earlier Story:
Farmer Released After Serving Time for Shooting Burglar
(July 28, 2003)

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