No regrets - Norfolk farmer Tony Martin speaks 10 years after the Bleak House shootings
PUBLISHED: 15:14 06 September 2012 | UPDATED: 15:24 06 September 2012
Archant © 2009
Ten years have passed since Tony Martin turned his shotgun on two burglars who broke into his ramshackle Norfolk farmhouse, killing one and wounding the other. But a decade has not brought a shred of remorse to the man who sparked a national debate over how much force was reasonable to defend your property.
The branches still bend double on the trees as the apples swell in the orchards. Out in the wheat fields, a combine whips up a dust storm as the late summer sun sets over Emneth Hungate.
On the surface little has changed in generations in this corner of the Fens, let alone the 10 years since a farmer went to bed wondering if the weather would hold long enough to cut the corn and a car-load of burglars set out from a sink estate for a very different kind of harvest.
Fred Barras would be in his late twenties now - if he had not joined two seasoned thieves on a foray to the flatlands. Instead of celebrating his night’s haul with a spliff and a can of cider on the way home, he died sobbing for his mother - shot dead for the sake of a few silver jugs.
But the man who killed 16-year-old Fred and peppered his accomplice Brendan Fearon with buckshot is not sorry.
“Regrets..? I don’t have any regrets at all, I don’t see why I should,” he said.
“It was something that was forced upon me and as it turns out it would appear it wasn’t a bad idea to happen.
“Everyone knew what was going on and actually it was a bit like a boil, it brought it to a head. But the interesting thing is nothing has been done in the last 10 years.
“When I had my problem, I was in the papers every day. Things haven’t changed. I don’t hold it against the police. I just don’t respect them and nor does anyone else.
“They haven’t done anything at all. That’s why we had those problems 10 years ago. We had no law and order and if I’m responsible for shooting those people they’re equally culpable.”
Tony Martin has not set foot inside his former home since the shooting on August 20, 1999. Ivy riots up its walls and its windows remain barred by steel shutters.
“I’ll tell you how theft works,” he said, surveying the jungle which has all but swallowed the house. “People feel like they’ve been violated, they don’t want to talk about it.
“I lost my privacy when the police came down here, when they brought that putrescence Fearon back here into my house.”
Career burglar Fearon could remember little of the shooting when police took him back to the scene as they pieced together the moments leading up to Fred’s death.
Mr Martin’s eccentric lifestyle was plastered all over the papers. Bleak House - the property he was left by an uncle 30 years or so earlier - was semi derelict. When he went on trial for murder, the prosecution said the house was booby-trapped.
Anyone casing the property would struggle to even find it - let alone think it held anything worth stealing. But when Brendan Fearon and Fred Barras set out from Newark, with driver Darren Bark, they had a tip off that Bleak House was worth a look.
Word on the street was it was a storehouse of antiques, owned by an old man who was almost never at home.
As they made their way to Norfolk, they were pulled over by police. Officers neglected to search the car - despite the fact its occupants had more form than Desert Orchid. So the bag of burglar’s tools in the boot went undetected.
Fearon and Barras must have thought it was their lucky night. But when Tony Martin woke to the sound of someone breaking into his home, he reached for an unlicensed pump-action shotgun and made his way downstairs.
Time stood still for Fearon as he stumbled across the fields in agony, with more than 180 pellets embedded in his thighs and buttocks, until he reached the home of Martin’s neighbours Paul and Jackie Leet.
His young friend made it a few yards into the undergrowth. When police found Fred’s body the following day, he still had a pink bail sheet in his pocket from being arrested earlier that week on suspicion of handling.
Hours before the shooting, a local politician warned people living in rural areas would take the law into their own hands if the police did not act against a rising tide of crime. It was front page news in the local paper.
Tony Martin had been burgled on a number of occasions before the shootings. But while police said lessons had been learned afterwards and promised better co-operation between neighbouring forces when it came to policing the Fens, a cross border intelligence unit was scrapped after just 18 months.
Mr Martin insists little has changed. In recent weeks he has been given a fixed penalty fine for not wearing a seatbelt and questioned over a sickle in his car.
“Going back to the police, I’m not against them,” “said Mr Martin. “They keep playing this game where they say if you’ve got a problem, give us a ring.
“When you do ring, they come down and tell you why they can’t do anything. What we need is a proper parliament that would untie their hands.”
Mr Martin slept in his car after being freed on appeal in 2003, when his conviction was reduced to manslaughter. He remains coy about his current abode, refusing to let even the police know his whereabouts.
As he prepares to turn 65, he appears to have given up on farming. Rusting equipment lies around the yards and sheds, while some of his fields have been turned over to set-aside.
Asked if he has equipped himself with another gun - like the pump-action Remington he acquired in a nearby pub prior to shooting Fred Barras -he remains evasive. “I do have plenty of powder,” he smiles.
Martin’s conviction for murder, in April 2000, caused a national outcry. The conviction was reduced to manslaughter and the sentence cut to five years on appeal. Martin’s release was delayed until the summer of 2003 because he refused to express any remorse over the death of Fred Barras.
“Regrets..? I’ve got no more regrets than people who break into people’s houses,” he said. “I was on the stairs, they were shining a torch on me, I pulled the trigger and the rest is history.”
This interview was published in the EDP of August 20, 2009.