12:10, March 10 375 0 theguardian.com

2017-03-10 12:10:06
Farmer, 83, cleared of shooting suspected thief

An 83-year-old farmer who was found not guilty after being taken to court for shooting a suspected thief on his property has said he should not have been charged.

A jury at Hull Crown Court took just 24 minutes to clear Kenneth Hugill of inflicting grievous bodily harm by shooting the man in the foot.

Hugill and his family welcomed the verdict but criticised the decision to prosecute and the response from the police at the time of the incident.

The three-day trial heard that Hugill went outside after he saw a vehicle on his farm at Wilberfoss, East Yorkshire, in the early hours of 13 November 2015.

He told the jury he was “petrified” when he heard the vehicle’s engine revving and thought it was being driven towards him.

The court heard he used a shotgun, given to him by his parents for his 21st birthday, to shoot down the side of the vehicle to stop it driving at him and to frighten the occupants away.

He said he did not intend to injure anyone and was not aware anyone had been hit.

Hugill, who uses a walking stick and a hearing aid, thanked the jury of five men and seven women.

Speaking outside the court, Hugill said: “I’m very, very pleased. It’s marvellous. We thought I shouldn’t have been prosecuted right from the start, I didn’t feel it was justified at the time. I pulled the trigger because I thought that car was going to kill me.”

Hugill’s son, David, 50, said Humberside Police took 15 hours to respond to a call he made at 2.23am to report a suspected diesel theft at his father’s farm.

The trial heard that the farm manager did not mention to police in the call that a shotgun had been fired.

Speaking after the verdict, he said he arrived at the farm later that day, at around 5pm, to find armed police, forensic officers, a helicopter and an ambulance.

He said: “They told us they heard there had been a firearms offence and they were looking for hostages. We were very shocked with their actions and they didn’t give us any explanation.”

David Hugill said he and his father were arrested, photographed, fingerprinted and had DNA samples taken and were locked in police cells for three to four hours.

The court heard that the injured man, Richard Stables, attended hospital the same day with a gunshot wound to his foot. He gave three different accounts about how he received his injuries but eventually revealed he was shot by a farmer.

When later interviewed by police, Stables said he had been out lamping with a friend but denied poaching. He said they stopped at Hugill’s farm to let the dog out.

David Hugill, who said the farm had experienced problems with poaching and attempted diesel thefts, said it would have been fairer if the men in the vehicle had also been prosecuted.

He said: “The police are pushed to the limit and can’t cover the countryside and people have the right to protect their property in the middle of the night when there is no response or back-up.”

He estimated the family’s legal bill would be more than £30,000.

Addressing the jurors after they had returned their verdict, Judge David Tremberg said: “You will perhaps understand this is the sort of case where the prosecution cannot overlook it and it is a case which requires the verdict of a jury.”

Gerry Wareham, from the Crown Prosecution Service, said: “We are satisfied that there was sufficient evidence to put the matter before a court and that it was in the public interest to do so.”

Detective Chief Superintendent Matt Hutchinson, of Humberside Police, said: “The police response to this incident was appropriate given that someone sustained serious injuries after being shot, with firearms officers attending to ensure both the officer safety and that of the public.”