Tony Martin - It could happen again

CHRIS BISHOP The Norfolk farmer jailed for shooting dead a burglar said last night that he feared it might happen to someone else - as police stepped up the hunt for an armed gang terrorising the Fens.

CHRIS BISHOP

The Norfolk farmer jailed for shooting dead a burglar said last night that he feared it might happen to someone else - as police stepped up the hunt for an armed gang terrorising the Fens.

Tony Martin, who killed teenage burglar Fred Barras and wounded his accomplice Brendan Fearon in 1999, warned that worried residents might be tempted to take steps to protect themselves.

Masked men brandishing shotguns have carried out raids on homes in Nordelph, Stowbridge, North Runcton, Upwell, Elm and Wereham in the space of a week. Police have linked them to two other, earlier incidents.

The gang escaped with a safe containing a large quantity of cash from one property but have fled empty-handed from others. A gun was fired in two of the attacks, blowing out windows at one property while children were inside.

A 25-strong team of detectives, including officers from Norfolk's Major Investigation Team, is leading the hunt for the gang, described by detectives as desperate and dangerous.

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The inquiry, led by Det Insp Mark Beresford, has become one of the force's top priorities because of the considerable level of weaponry used.

Mr Martin was found guilty of murdering intruder Fred Barras at his remote farmhouse at Emneth Hungate, near Wisbech, but the conviction was overturned on appeal. The case sparked a national debate over householders' rights to defend their properties.

A special cross-border policing unit, set up to target travelling criminals in the light of the Martin case, was disbanded almost a year ago.

Last night Mr Martin said: "This gang don't know what is waiting for them when they attack a house. They do not know what is going to happen when they go to a house and how people are going to react. We have not known anything like this.

"People do not know what will happen. I didn't know. Unfortunately no-one does. You just don't know what you are going to do in a situation like that."

Last night patrols were being stepped up in villages targeted by the gang. An ANPR - automatic number plate recognition - camera has also been deployed.

"The investigation is in full swing, with officers working on a number of lines of inquiry," a police spokesman said.

"Safer Neighbourhoods officers will be carrying out public reassurance work in the coming days but if people do have concerns they should contact them directly on 0845 456 4567.

"A number of members of the public have called with information as a result of the media coverage. We would still appeal for anyone with information about the dark, possibly maroon/Vauxhall Vectra or similar vehicle to contact us, or with information about those responsible."

Police believe the men may be part of the same family and have used a maroon Vauxhall Vectra or Cavalier as a getaway car.

Officers were on the scene within minutes of the alarm being raised after a property in Wereham was raided on Monday night, but the gang got away.

Detectives believe the gang could have driven away from the scene with the lights of their car turned off - meaning they could know the farm tracks and byroads around villages they have targeted.

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