Jailed farmer loses appeal

SUPPORTERS reacted with shock and disbelief after jailed farmer Tony Martin lost his High Court battle over a Parole Board refusal to release him early.

SUPPORTERS reacted with shock and disbelief after jailed farmer Tony Martin lost his High Court battle over a Parole Board refusal to release him early.

A judge ruled there were no legal grounds for ordering the Board to reconsider the case of Martin, 59, who is serving a five-year sentence for killing a teenage burglar. He is currently in Highpoint Prison near Haverhill.

Mr Justice Maurice Kay, sitting in London, criticised the way the Board had initially failed to obtain and read crucial documents - an appeal court judgment and psychiatric reports - before throwing out Martin's application in January.

He said the error was remedied when the case was reconsidered in February.

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The judge said: "I don't consider what took place a model of procedural purity, but I am satisfied it was not procedurally unfair."

Martin was refused permission to appeal but his legal team was considering whether to exercise its right in any event to ask the appeal court to intervene.

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Later Malcolm Starr, the businessman who led the campaign to free Martin, said: "Mr Martin would be better off being a burglar. They lie to the Parole Board and get out early while he remains inside. The judge has clearly come down on the side of the Parole Board. It was the easy way out."

Richard Portham, Martin's friend and neighbour in Emneth Hungate, Norfolk, said: "I find it truly, truly shocking and I think a lot of people in Britain will feel the same."

The Board refused Martin early release after probation officers said there was an "unacceptable risk" that he might again react with excessive force if other would-be burglars intruded on his Norfolk farm, Bleak House.

The judge ruled that the Parole Board had been entitled to conclude that Martin should not be freed early after considering probation service reports that he showed no contrition for shooting 16-year-old Fred Barras, of Newark, Nottinghamshire, when he broke into Martin's remote Norfolk farmhouse in August 1999 with accomplice Brendon Fearon, 33, also from Newark.

Fearon was shot in the leg by Martin, who was convicted of murdering Barras and wounding Fearon by a jury at Norwich Crown Court.

The judge said there was enough material before the Board to justify its conclusions that there was a high risk of Martin reoffending in the future.

Martin received an automatic life sentence but the murder conviction was reduced to manslaughter and the sentence to five years by the Court of Appeal in October 2001.

Bitu Bhalla, for Martin, argued during the two-day High Court hearing that the farmer was "not a nutter" and there was no serious risk of him reoffending.

Pushpinder Saini, for the Board, argued that the Board had not acted irrationally and burglars were entitled to protection from violent homeowners and were not to be treated as "fair game".

The jailing of Martin, who is due to leave prison on July 28 after serving two-thirds of his manslaughter sentence, led to a national debate over the rights of people to protect their property.

The judge said: "If a man holds heterodox views about the right to take the law into his own hands when his castle is invaded or there are risks of criminal attack, it is a matter of common sense that there is a possibility that such views will be further nourished by sympathetic media and public interest."

Later the founder of the national ex-offenders' charity Unlock, Mark Leech, who is himself a former prisoner, said: "Tony Martin is seen by some as a folk hero for killing the 16-year-old who had broken into his house and of course many, including me, have sympathy with his situation.

"But in reality Tony Martin is no different to any other offender who crosses the line between legal acts on one hand and criminal conduct on the other.'

Director of the Victims of Crime Trust, Pc Norman Brennan, said: "This is a tragic case all round. There are no winners or losers. The lesson we must learn is that the criminal justice system has got to do much better than it is if we are to have any confidence in it.'

Martin's Conservative MP Henry Bellingham, who represents the constituency of North West Norfolk, said he was "appalled" by the decision and said the ruling showed the law was weighted against victims of burglary.

Martin was being treated "as political prisoner".

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