Over the stable door: Thefts an all-too common story in rural areas

Jo Foster sorting out the tack at her stables at Menston near Leeds.

Jo Foster sorting out the tack at her stables at Menston near Leeds.

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Speak to any farmer at your local livestock market and few will have been spared a visit from thieves.

Farms are easy pickings for theft – quad bikes, chainsaws, four-wheel drive vehicles and most agricultural electrical goods can be sold on swiftly.

Intruders know there is little chance of getting caught, police responses can be slow in rural areas with manpower short. Even if the stolen goods are found and thieves located convictions are infrequent.

Recently, some farmer friends from Skipton went out for supper on a Saturday evening. They arrived home at 9.30pm to find a front window smashed, their old farmhouse had been broken into. Furniture was smashed to pieces, crowbars had pulled out chunks of the walls – the place was annihilated all to steal some personal items and a vehicle. It has left them utterly devastated. Sadly, this story is all-too common in rural areas. Late on a chilly November evening in 2015 Kenneth Hugill, a farmer from Wilberfoss, heard intruders in his yard. The 81-year-old was worried, he and his wife were alone on their remote farm and it was the early hours of the morning. He ventured outside with his gun unsure what might await him.

He said he found the two intruders ‘up to no good’. He fired the shotgun up in the air but as the pair drove their 4x4 directly towards the old farmer he thought his days were ended and fired a second shot in the hope of frightening them off.

The intruders drove off.

The pair, Richard Stables and a second man, lied to doctors at the hospital saying Stables had accidentally shot himself in the foot.

Stables later gave police three different versions of events before admitting a farmer had shot him.

He said he had “stumbled onto the farm accidentally” before suggesting he had been “hunting rabbits”.

Despite his age and never being on the wrong side of the law, Mr Hugill was the one hauled before the courts rather than the alleged burglars. It took 16 months of worry before the farmers case finally got to Hull Crown Court.

After hearing the evidence, it took the jury just 24 minutes to clear him of GBH. The judge said he had a right to defend his property when Richard Stables drove on to his land in the early hours of the morning.

The old farmer wept with relief. He said afterwards: “I am very, very pleased, it is marvellous. I thought I should not have been prosecuted right from the start.”

Despite being found not guilty, the farmer must now pay his legal fees of £30,000.

When celebrity lawyer Nick Freeman read about the case he felt so incensed he set up an online fund to help Mr Hugill raise the money he needs.

“I am sure there are plenty of people who felt as equally incensed as me and will be happy to spare a few pounds in helping this hard-working family in their hour of financial need.”

There is huge community patronage for the farmer and funds to date have reached £13,000 thanks to the support of so many who feel strongly regarding such a lack of justice.

Anyone wishing to help Mr Hugill raise the funds can do so by donating on www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/supportkennethhugill. I’m sure he will be more than grateful for your help in such a time of need.

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