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Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture
The Tony Martin Case

In recent discussions on self-defence law, the “Tony Martin case” has frequently made an appearance. I therefore thought it would be prudent to address it specifically in this post.

Tony Martin shot intruders to his farm and as a result was convicted for murder (later dropped to manslaughter on appeal on the basis of diminished responsibility). Some people cite this as being an example of the law being on the side of the criminal.

While the Tony Martin case is certainly divisive, it's also widely misunderstood and misreported. While the case is often understood to be a farmer reacting to a break in, the facts of the case are a little different:

1) The guns owned by Tony Martin were illegally held:

"Martin had his shotgun certificate revoked in 1994 after he found a man scrumping for apples in his orchard and shot a hole in the back of his vehicle. Pump-action shotguns with a magazine capacity above 2 are illegal to hold on a Shotgun Certificate however, and can only be held with a Firearms Certificate."

2) His story of self-defence was not supported by the evidence:

"Martin claimed that he opened fire after being woken when the intruders smashed a window. But his claim that he had shot at them from halfway down the stairs was disproved by scientific evidence that showed he must have fired his shotgun from the doorway of a downstairs room. The prosecution accused him of lying in wait for the burglars and opening fire without warning from close range, in retribution for previous break-ins at his home."

3) The intruders were shot as they were trying to escape the property, not as they were entering it:

“Martin evidentially shot three times towards the intruders (once when they were in the stairwell and twice more when they were trying to flee through the window of an adjacent ground floor room).”

4) The jury (ordinary people just like us) concluded that reasonable force was not used, and that Tony Martin intended to “kill or cause serious bodily harm”:

"English law permits one person to kill another in self-defence only if the person defending him or herself uses no more than "reasonable force"; it is the responsibility of the jury to determine whether or not an unreasonable amount of force was used. The jury at the trial were told that they had the option of returning a verdict of manslaughter rather than murder, if they thought that Martin "did not intend to kill or cause serious bodily harm". However, the jurors found Martin guilty of murder by a 10 to 2 majority."

5) The court of appeal also rejected the idea that the shots were fired in self-defence.

"An appeal was considered in October 2001 by three senior judges headed by Lord Woolf, LCJ. Submissions by the defence that Martin had fired in his own defence were rejected by the appeal court. On this occasion the defence also submitted evidence that Martin was diagnosed with paranoid personality disorder exacerbated by depression and that his paranoia was specifically directed at anyone intruding into his home. This submission was accepted by the Court of Appeal and, on the grounds of diminished responsibility, Martin's murder conviction was replaced by manslaughter carrying a five-year sentence, and his ten-year sentence for wounding Fearon was reduced to three years. These sentences were to run concurrently."

So while the headlines say "innocent farmer protecting his property" there is more to it than that. We have illegally held weapons used for "retribution", with an intent to kill, by a man the head of the parole board described as "very dangerous". Also worth remembering that everyday people just like us (the jury), who were party to all the evidence – not just the newspaper headlines – concluded this was not self-defence, but murder and retribution.

In short, the people directly involved in the case concluded this was not a case of self-defence; despite how it is most frequently presented in the media.

While I'm sure everyone has some sympathy when it comes to the fact Tony Martin was in his own property, and those shot were intruders intending to steal from Tony Martin, it nevertheless remains concerning that people point to this case as proof your everyday citizen will be prosecuted if they defend themselves or their property. That's not true.

In the fifteen year period from 1990 to 2005 only 11 people were prosecuted for "defending" their homes and businesses. In all cases, it is easy to see why (intruders deliberately electrocuted, thrown in a pit and set on fire, chased and then beaten unconscious … and then beaten some more until left permanently brain damaged, shot in the back while trying to escape, etc). In all cases we see a move from self-defence to violent retribution.

We do have a strong legal right to protect ourselves and our property. We have no legal right to take the law into our own hands and extract retribution. In my view, that's the message that should come from the Tony Martin case so people know they can protect themselves under the law – as both the law and the statistics bear out – but they have no right to take the law into their own hands.

People believing they will be prosecuted if they act against criminals, plays into the hands of the criminal element as  it produces hesitation and doubt in the minds of those legitimately and legally protecting themselves and their property. It is for this reason I think we need to encourage people to look beyond the headlines.

All the best,



victor's picture

Hi Ian.

Very interesting case. We had a similar case here in Ireland a few years ago. Padraic Nally was forced in to a situation. I think when people are repeatedly burgled or harassed they pass a certain point and go on the offensive. It ends up looking like a premeditated attack or ambush. Desperate times and all.I think there is not enough protection for people who are repeatedly targeted. I think in a lot of cases they feel isolated and alone. Leaving them with no option but to dig in and fight back. Just an opinion on certain cases. I know every case is different.