Farmer jailed for threat to neighbour

By Danielle NuttallA WEALTHY farmer who used “guerrilla warfare” tactics against a neighbour whose house he wanted to buy - including threatening to shoot him - has been jailed.

By Danielle Nuttall

A WEALTHY farmer who used “guerrilla warfare” tactics against a neighbour whose house he wanted to buy - including threatening to shoot him - has been jailed.

Stephen Murphy, 47, embarked on a campaign of intimidation that involved dumping rubble and farm machinery on land close to Richard Overton's property in an attempt to make it unsaleable.

On one occasion, the farmer approached Mr Overton at his home - the 17th Century Blooms Hall, near Stanstead, near Sudbury - and threatened to shoot his eyes out.

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Murphy appeared at Ipswich Crown Court yesterday and was sentenced to 12 months in prison after admitting a charge of putting financier Mr Overton in fear of violence by threatening to shoot him.

Sentencing him, Judge John Holt described Murphy as a “bully” and “greedy”, adding: “I am satisfied you embarked on this course of conduct for substantial financial gain. It would have been considerable had you succeeded.

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“You threatened serious violence which did indeed frighten Mr Overton. Your conduct is so serious that you must go to prison.”

The court heard Murphy, a father-of-three, who owned a farm near Mr Overton's property, wanted to buy Blooms Hall, which was worth between £700,000 and £800,0000, but the two men could not agree on a price.

Stephen Dyble, prosecuting, said Murphy had then launched a “guerrilla warfare”-style operation in which he dumped items of rubble, household waste, old farm machinery and tyres within yards of its boundary.

He added Murphy's actions had been designed to irritate Mr Overton and to create an “eyesore” which would put off any potential purchaser from buying the property.

The court heard Mr Overton had been approaching his property in a car on May 13 last year when he had spotted Murphy driving a large tractor, which was towing a piece of rusty farm machinery.

“Having dumped that piece of machinery, the defendant approached Mr Overton and he (Mr Overton) describes being subjected to a full series of threatening and abusive comments, culminating in a threat that if I got the police on him again, he would shoot my eyes out,” said Mr Dyble.

The following month, 70 bails of silage were dumped close to Mr Overton's property, he added.

The court also heard Murphy had later repeated a threat to Mr Overton via local estate agent Caroline Edwards.

Murphy no longer owns the farmhouse and buildings near Mr Overton's property and has since moved to the village of Kettlebaston, near Lavenham.

Ian James, mitigating, said Murphy had been farming land for some time and was not a “push over”.

He added Murphy and Mr Overton had been neighbours for more than 10 years, had often shared the school run concerning their children and had occasionally socialised together.

Mr James said Murphy had been guilty of the offence of harassment, but of nothing else, and added there was a danger of the matter getting out of hand.

“He is a man in his 40s with an unblemished character. He accepts that his movements should be restricted in consequence of this matter,” he added.

Judge Holt ordered Murphy to serve half of his 12-month sentence and pay prosecution costs of £1,066. He also issued Murphy with a restraining order relating to Mr Overton's property for an indefinite period.

A charge of blackmail, denied by Murphy, was ordered to lie on file by the prosecution.

Speaking after the case, Mr James said he would be discussing the prospect of an appeal with Murphy.

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