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Tony Martin

Tony Martin, a Norfolk farmer, ignited a furore in England at the end of 1990s over the support in English law for the right to defend one's home and property. Critics of the handling of the case suggest that it demonstrates not only that the right of self-defence generally is so watered down as to be no longer effectively enshrined in English law, but that sentencing in cases of self-defence is entirely unpredictable.

Tony Martin lived in an isolated farmhouse in Norfolk named "Bleak House". On the night of the 20th August 1999 he was awoken by sounds in his home. Previously burgled only three months before, losing 6000.00 worth of furniture, he took his shotgun and came downstairs to be confronted by a torch being shone in his face. A 29 year old man, Brendon Fearon, and an accomplice of just 16, Fred Barras, were stealing from the house. Martin opened fire three times on the two burglars as they attempted to flee, killing the youth and injuring the older man. Martin was later arrested for the "crime" of defending his property and charged with the murder of Barras and the wounding of Fearon with intent to cause grievous bodily harm. Martin was bailed, but taken to a secret address after it emerged that there could have been an underworld contract on his head for up to 60,000.

Despite the fact that Barras and Fearon were repeated offenders with 62 convictions between them, the jury at the trial concluded that "reasonable force" could not have been applied to fend off an assault, because the two were already trying to make their escape. Martin was in possession of an unlicensed shotgun (illegal under the law) and the jury discounted the fact that Martin predicted to the police that a further burglary was likely. In fact quite the reverse - although it was clearly impossible to predict the actual time and place of the burglary, the jury chose to believe the precautions Martin took to defend his home indicated "premeditation" on his part, for which a murder indictment would be appropriate. Martin was duly sentenced to life in prison.

The severity of this sentence shocked a normally uninterested nation and it was presented comprehensively in the media. An appeal was quickly lodged and Martin reappeared before the court. On this occasion a claim of insanity was put forward (actually Paranoid Personality Disorder) which was accepted. The sentence was reduced to manslaughter carrying a five year sentence.

With this conclusion, Martin became eligible for parole and early release. However he was not granted this. Under English law, parole is offered principally if there is no danger to the public from the criminal under study. Martin was not contrite for having defended his property against theft and the parole board concluded that the now 58-year-old was "a danger to burglars".

Nevertheless on 28 July 2003 at about 09:40 BST Martin was released after serving three years of his five year sentence, just three days after the surviving thief, Fearon, who served 18 months for the burglary.

The family of Fearon applied for, and received, an estimated 5000.00 pounds of state legal aid to sue Martin for loss of earnings due to the injury he sustained. This bid was later dropped. The father of the dead youth, himself believed to be a career armed robber, now plans to seek legal aid to sue Martin for criminal compensation over the death of his son.

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