Before all this, Kevin's life was good. He worked hard, spent time with his family and enjoyed pottering around the local farm where he had permission to shoot. Now his world has been turned upside-down. For months he was unable to work (as a truck driver), which has caused all sorts of financial hardship - he's had to remortgage his house to make ends meet. The stress has made his wife ill. He has lost his beloved sport, which gave him the chance to unwind in the countryside after a hard week on the road.
Perhaps most of all, he feels he has lost his reputation. He's a man of principle: "I don't lie and I don't steal" he told me, before breaking down in tears. "I just want to clear my name, put all this behind me, and move on with my life."
So what happened to cause all this? Here's my take on the story, and what went wrong.
The story behind Kevin's misfortune is long and complicated - but it has important lessons for all of us who shoot, and perhaps some equally important lessons for those who enforce the law.
I spent 2 1/2 hours yesterday listening to Kevin, and considerably longer trawling through various witness statements, interview transcripts, memos and correspondence that Kevin has on disc. It's clear to me Kevin believes passionately that he has been wronged. He has worried over the details of the case for months, made copious notes, written letters of complaint. He now talks of taking legal action against the individual police officers who dealt with the case.
So, was he wronged? Was he victimised by individual officers who had some grudge against him, as he seems to suspect?
It's not easy to get to the bottom of what happened. Part of the problem is that Kevin doesn't express himself effectively. That's not to put him down - I couldn't drive a big truck; words are my thing. But, in trying to argue his case, he jumps from one point to the next and back, appearing to contradict himself. He focuses on minute details of who said what and when, and glosses over the broader issues. And the long months of fighting the system have taken their toll. He sees conspiracies where, in my view, none exist, which can make him appear slightly paranoid. It's a trait that could all too easily become self-fulfilling.
So what happened to cause all this? Here's my take on the story, and what went wrong.
- Back at the beginning of 2008 Kevin was shooing regularly on W Farm, a short drive from his house; he had become friends with the farmer.
- The farm adjoins a country park. A number of local dog owners had got into the habit of walking up the farm track and sometimes even across the fields. They'd been doing this for years, and considered it their right.
- Kevin wanted to discourage them, and the farmer had backed him up on this. If he was out on the farm and saw someone trespassing, he would ask them to get back on the footpath. Some of the dog walkers would get a bit bolshie about it. Kevin put up some 'Private Property' notices on the track; they were torn down.
- At some point, after being confronted by Kevin, a couple of dog walkers talked to the country park's ranger, probably along the lines of 'that stroppy git with a gun keeps telling us to get off the track, surely it's a public footpath. And is it safe for him to be shooting there anyway?'
- At the mention of a gun, the ranger will have suggested they go and talk to the police.
- So our dog walkers go into the local police station and say they want to complain about being harassed by a man with a gun.
- PC Plod pricks up his ears at the mention of a gun, writes a statement with something of an angle to it, and gets our dog walkers to sign it. The statement mentions their 'alarm' at a gun being fired, and the 'aggressive' way they were told to get off private land.
- Anyone reading the statement could easily get the (false) impression that Kevin roared up to the walkers and fired his gun to scare them off.
- Faced with a statement like that, the police couldn't do nothing. They arrest Kevin.
- When he is questioned, the policeman is looking for an admission that Kevin fired his gun to scare the walkers. And here's the crucial point: Kevin fails to understand what the policeman is getting at. The idea of using a gun like that is so foreign to him that it never crosses his mind the policeman would think it of him. His solicitor also seems to miss the point. They talk for some time at cross purposes (I have re-read the interview transcript several times and this is quite clear).
- By the end of the interview, the policeman feels that Kevin has admitted that he fired the gun when he confronted the walkers. Kevin still fails to see that's what the policeman thinks.
- Over the coming months the wheels of justice roll on. Kevin focuses on the dates when he was alleged to have confronted the walkers - he can prove he was working on the dates they mention.
- Because the statements are shaky, the CPS decide not to prosecute. By now one of the walkers has retracted part of their statement and said that Kevin should simply get "a telling off".
- The Firearms Dept, however, don't have to put together a case that will stand up in court. But they do have a duty to keep firearms out of the hands of anyone who might be a danger to the public. And on the evidence before them, Kevin is just such a person. So they refuse to reinstate his certificate.
- Kevin, meanwhile, still doesn't see what's happened. He feels he's been unfairly treated. He was just doing his duty to the farmer, looking after his land. He never threatened anyone. Why is he being treated like this?
- He continues to fight his case, becoming increasingly disillusioned and depressed. His appeal (against the revocation of his certificate) is not well handled, partly due to his ineloquence, and partly due to the inexperience of everyone involved in a complex area of law.
- Which brings us to where we are now - a very sorry state of affairs, all arising from one fundamental misunderstanding. I don't believe the walkers ever thought Kevin fired his gun deliberately to scare them. Their comment was a general (and genuine) concern about whether it was safe for someone to be shooting on those fields. It's an understandable concern from people who don't know anything about guns, how far pellets can travel, etc.
So where does Kevin go next? He needs to do something. The current situation is slowly destroying him. Of course he'd like his guns back, and to go shooting again. Shooting is deep in his soul. It's not just a hobby to him, it's part of what he is. But more than that, he needs to clear his name. His reputation is desperately important to him, and he feels his good name has been unfairly taken away.
Sadly, he is now focusing on taking action against individual police officers. He honestly believes they have picked on him, twisting the evidence deliberately to cause him trouble.
This course of action will not get him a satisfactory result. I have examined pages of evidence, and there is nothing to suggest lying or deceit on behalf of the police. They could perhaps have been more thorough, paid more attention to detail, or quizzed the walkers more closely about what really happened. But they are humans trying to do the right thing within an imperfect system.
Most likely Kevin won't find a solicitor willing to take up his case. If he does, I believe it will fail. That can only drag things on further, make him more bitter, and further reduce his chances of ever getting his certificate back.
What's his best course of action? It won't be easy for him, but I believe he needs to come to terms with the idea that this all arose from a combination of conflict and misunderstanding; it's not about him. And then he needs to have a long chat with the firearms dept about re-applying for his certificate. It will take time. He will need to bite his lip. A lot. But in my view it's the only way he will regain his self-respect and begin to rebuild his life.
There are lessons in this for all of us who shoot, particularly on land where there is a degree of public access (legal or not). Perhaps the most important is to remember that there are some bolshie, militant trespassers around who think that God gave them the birds and the sky and the trees, and private land is theft. The law is not on their side - but it will come down on you like a ton of bricks if there is ever the slightest suggestion that you used a gun to threaten them to "gerrof my land".
The police, for their part, need to remember that there are many possible meanings of the phrase "I was threatened by a man with a gun". One of which is "I don't much like shooting anyway, and I don't see why I shouldn't walk my dog where I bloody well like".