An 83-year-old Yorkshire farmer was cleared today of shooting a suspected thief on his property.
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.
Mr 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 Mr Hugill went outside after he saw a vehicle on his farm on Mill Lane, Wilberfoss, East Yorkshire, in the early hours of November 13 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 frighten the occupants away.
He said he did not intend to injure anyone and was not aware anyone had been hit.
Mr Hugill, who uses a walking stick and a hearing aid and did not sit in the dock during the trial, thanked the jury of five men and seven women as they left the court room after acquitting him.
Speaking outside the court, Mr 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.”
Mr 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, Mr Stables said he had been out lamping with a friend but denied poaching. He said they stopped at Mr Hugill’s farm to let the dog out.
David Hugill, who said the farm had experienced problems with poaching and attempted diesel thefts, said he felt it would have been fairer if the men in the vehicle had also been prosecuted.
He said: “Under the circumstances, when an 83-year-old protects his isolated farm in the middle of nowhere and the police response is very, very slow.
“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.”
David Hugill estimated the family’s legal bill would be more than £30,000.
He said: “It hits us very, very hard with being farmers; we don’t have much money and it’s money we’ll have to borrow to pay back over 20 or 30 years.”
But he said they were pleased with the verdict.
“The justice system works and we’re very happy with the result.
“We’re pleased it’s all over.”