It is perhaps the most notorious building in Norfolk, the tumbledown farmhouse where Tony Martin killed a burglar. Now, as he tells CHRIS BISHOP, the property is being targeted by intruders once again

Tony Martin says he will never return to live in Bleak House, his remote home where, one summer night in 1999, he shot two burglars. One, 16-year-old Fred Barras, was killed.

Since 2003, when he finished his prison sentence for Mr Barras' manslaughter, Mr Martin - who contacted the EDP to share his plans for the property - has not even set foot inside.

But others have.

The site, at Emneth Hungate, near Wisbech, has been attracting the attention of so-called 'urban explorers', who enter deserted and empty properties and then document what they discover online.

Eastern Daily Press: Fred Barras, 16, who died in the shootings at Bleak HouseFred Barras, 16, who died in the shootings at Bleak House (Image: PA)

On one occasion, the intruders were at the house when Mr Martin arrived to check on the site and found a ladder propped against the wall.

"I thought I was being burgled," he said.

An account of the incident from the anonymous explorers can be found online.

"As we started to climb down the ladder [we] could hear someone coming through the woods. Standing dead still on the edge of the roof we see Mr Martin in the flesh," they wrote.

"The second he was out of sight we rushed down the ladder and legged it in the opposite direction not wanting a repeat of previous events at this house."

Mr Martin, now in his late 70s, said: "Yes. I've heard about them [the explorers]."

Eastern Daily Press: Tony Martin's farm, Bleak House, at Emneth Hungate. Picture: John HocknellTony Martin's farm, Bleak House, at Emneth Hungate. Picture: John Hocknell

He said he had not been aware of his close encounter with them, on that occasion, but had learned later.

He had simply noticed that the ladder had been moved.

He was reluctant to be drawn too much further on his views of the intruders. It is understood measures have since been put in place to keep them out.

Eastern Daily Press: Tony Martin, pictured in 2014 on the 15th anniversary of the Bleak House shootingsTony Martin, pictured in 2014 on the 15th anniversary of the Bleak House shootings (Image: Archant)


Mr Martin has no plans to restore Bleak House and make it fit for habitation again. "I'm too old, too old now," he added.

He said he intends to leave the farm to someone, but would not say who.

Asked if he ever planned to go back in the property - which is boarded up - Mr Martin looked to the floor and said, simply: "No."

He added that the land was now being worked by someone else.

"I've got someone in," he said, but wouldn't say who, or what the arrangement was.

Eastern Daily Press: EDP Front page 23 Aug 1999. Tony Martin.EDP Front page 23 Aug 1999. Tony Martin. (Image: Archant)


The property was in a dilapidated state even while Mr Martin was living there and has become significantly more so in the years since.

The decay is clear from the accounts of the explorers.

"The hole in the roof was directly above the staircase. This has caused the stairs to collapse and rot away leaving just the hand rail," they write.

"Downstairs was in a state more like a decaying building site, piles of bricks, rubble and holes in walls."

Shotgun pellets are embedded in the wall at the foot of the stairs. The glass the burglars broke to gain entry still lies on the floor.

There is, according to the explorers' account, prison sacks containing thousands of items of fan mail and Christmas cards sent to Mr Martin when he was in jail.

Eastern Daily Press: Bleak House shortly after the shootings in August 1999 Picture: John HocknellBleak House shortly after the shootings in August 1999 Picture: John Hocknell

"The letters all showing support for him had come from all over the world," the explorers write.

They make clear that they are also sympathetic to Mr Martin.

"If you're reading this Tony we were not burglars. We are fans of yours and are very fascinated by your story. Nothing was damaged and nothing was stolen," an explorer adds.

"Feel really bad for this guy after seeing all the buildings run down and overgrown all thanks to a couple of burglars."


Brendan Fearon and Fred Barras had driven more than 60 miles from Newark to Emneth Hungate to break into Bleak House, on the night of August 20, 1999.

They encountered Mr Martin, who turned an unlicensed shotgun on the pair.

Mr Barras was found dead in undergrowth the next day. Mr Fearon escaped with gunshot wounds to raise the alarm.

Mr Martin was jailed for life after a jury found him guilty of Barras' murder in April 2000.

But the conviction was reduced on manslaughter, the sentence cut to five years on appeal and Mr Martin was freed in 2003.

While he is reticent on the fate of his property, he still has plenty to say on the event that has defined his life.

"I had no intention of killing anyone when I went to bed that night. I'm not that cranky," Mr Martin says, as he sips tea in the Farmer's Arms on the outskirts of King's Lynn.

"I wrenched myself out on the landing when I realised there were people in the house. I didn't go for the gun but when the fear took over, I didn't think it would be a bad idea to pick up the gun. Anyone else would in the same situation."

He added: "It's very difficult to know in the dark what you're going to do when someone shines a torch in your face."

Mr Martin said he became "legal fodder" in the aftermath of the shooting, which sparked a national debate over whether householders could use force to defend their homes, followed by an outcry when he was jailed.

The prosecution claimed he lay in wait for the burglars and shot them "like rats in a trap".

"If they were in a trap, it was a trap of their own making," he retorts between sips.

"It was all lies about me waiting there fully dressed with my gun loaded."

It was also claimed in court that Mr Martin had booby trapped his house, removing stairs to trip intruders.

"It was DIY, gone wrong," said Mr Martin. "That wasn't a booby trap, I'd just turned the staircase around. I'd inherited a house that was cock-eyed."

That cock-eyed house - which seems destined to fall into the ground - continues to captivate, as much as the events which unfolded inside it.


Eastern Daily Press: Brendon Fearon, who survived the shootings at Bleak HouseBrendon Fearon, who survived the shootings at Bleak House (Image: PA)

August 20, 1999

Tony Martin is woken by burglars breaking into his property and turns a shotgun on them, killing Fred Barras, 16 and wounding Brendon Fearon, then 29. Both men had driven down from Newark to burgle Mr Martin's home

August 23, 1999

Mr Martin is charged with murder, attempted murder, wounding with intent to cause injury and possessing a firearm with intent to endanger life

April 2000

He is jailed for life after a Norwich Crown Court jury found him guilty

October 2001

Appeal Court judges reduce the conviction to manslaughter and the sentence to five years

July 2003

Mr Martin is released from prison. He resumes farming but does not go back inside his house, whose doors and windows are covered by steel shutters