Thursday 4 June 2009

'I just want to clear my name'

This is Kevin Hunter from Nuneaton in Warwickshire - I mentioned him before in a previous post (A miscarriage of justice?). My photo shows him pointing to the gap on the wall where his gun cabinet used to be. That was before he was arrested, held for 11 hours in a police cell, questioned, his house searched and his guns and ammo taken away, and his certificates revoked. That was in April 2008. For 4 months he thought he would be prosecuted for firearms offences, then the CPS dropped the case. He challenged the revocation of his certificates in court, but lost. 

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."

Kevin's lab, Scooby, doesn't get to go shooting any more

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".


Hubert Hubert said...


I'd say your suggestion is a good one, James. It looks as though the firearms officers have reacted to the IDEA that he may have fired his gun to scare walkers. If this is not documented in any of the court proceedings etc, then he needs to keep re-iterating that this has never actually happened - merely that the idea of it happening has gained some currency. He can't prove it didn't happen, since you can't prove a negative. But if they are going by the book they will need to have documentary evidence that it did happen if they are to stand on the legitimacy of his licence being revoked.

I agree, he needs to drop completely the idea that this is due to a grievance that a particular police officer has against him. Even if it's true it will do him no good at all to speak of it and, more likely, do his case considerable harm.

I'd also suggest that he stops being bolshy with dog walkers, considers apologising to those that he has annoyed and - if he ever gets his licence back, refrains from firing his gun if anyone else is around - rather than attempting to get people to behave so as to suit his own shooting plans. The culture of hostility to shooters, these days, will not tolerate a bullish approach like this.

Best of luck to him.

The Suburban Bushwacker said...

Fantastic post james, a really interesting story told in a balanced way, a reminder of the difference between blogging and journalism.

Mrs T Hunter said...

Do you know who is responsible for a series of attacks on pony?
10 October 2007 15 : 20
Incident 350 of 20 September
Police are asking for the public's help in identifying who is responsible for a series of attacks on a pony kept in a paddock with adjoining stable in Atherstone Road, Hartshill, Nuneaton.
Since 28 May the pony has been attacked at least three times. In the first incident on 28 May 2007, the pony which is stabled had its mane and tail cut. Then on 20 September 2007, the owner discovered the pony's mane had again been cut and a 4-5 inch cut caused to the pony's neck.
In the third incident, which occurred at the end of September the pony was discovered with its rug wrapped around its legs and the owner believes this may have been done deliberately in an attempt to trip and injure the pony.
Six trees and ten hedgerow bushes have also been stolen from the paddock.
Police are keen to identify who is responsible for the attacks.
PC Paul Painter said "We are a nation of animal lovers which makes this type of incident all the more upsetting. If you know anything, please help us with our enquiries.
"We are also keen to alert all local land owners, farmers and animal owners in case other attacks have occurred but not been reported."
If you have any information that could help police with their enquiries, however insignificant, please contact PC 1687 Paul Painter at Atherstone Police Station on 01827 718092 ext 3622 or voicemail 11687. You can also provide information anonymously by contacting Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.

Hazel Nicholas
Archive. You have missed this out the reason my husband was asking people what they were doing in a private lane/on private land.
Where our horses were kept or in close proximity.
The people that made these stements were not the people my husband was surposed to have asked to go back to the foot path but people who were looking on some distance away.
Paranoid! I think you would be the same way if a policeman falsely listed items as comeing from your home that could get you 5 years in prison namely 1 x shotgun that my husband sold in 2006 to the farmer and it was taken from the farm yet listed as comeing from our home theres a lot of other thing as well that the policeman has done to try and get my husband convicted so please if you are going to wright the story dont miss out the importent bits also the same police man who was investigating the horse attacks was also the policeman in charge of my husbands case thank Mrs T Hunter

James Marchington said...

Dear Mrs Hunter, Thanks for commenting; sorry I didn't get the chance to meet you when I visited. Thanks too for contributing the info about the horse attacks.
I understand why you want to highlight this, but you need to see that it can be counter-productive to focus on this, and on confusion over dates etc. To an outsider, it looks as if Kevin is saying a) I didn't do it, b) I was justified in doing it.
The one huge, enormous, overriding issue here is this: The police think that Kevin fired his gun to scare people off the land. As in "Gerrof my land, bang-bang!"
They honestly do think that's what happened. And that wouldn't be acceptable no matter what the provocation.
Kevin needs to concentrate on overturning that impression, which came about through the vague witness statements, and then the misunderstandings during his interview.
To do that, he needs to go back over the interview transcript and look at what the police asked, what they meant, and how they interpreted his replies.
And then go back to the police and explain quite clearly to them: "You think I fired my gun to scare the walkers off, and I can see how you got that impression, but I didn't. If you doubt it, let's go back and ask the walkers for clarification".
All this talk of dates, horses, dogs and distances from here to there is just getting in the way of communicating that one basic fact to the police. Until that misunderstanding is cleared up, progress will be impossible.

tom said...

Wandered here from Hubert's place:

As a Texan with many friends that have fled the UK (and California for that matter) like rats from a sinking ship, I don't see him doing anything wrong.

Different culture. I've ejected people from various properties I've owned at near, and this is important, NEAR gunpoint (as nothing was ever pointed at anybody, which would come under possible legal repercussions even here in Texas), and everything done legally as well as justifiably in my FREE part of the world. Very important to know the laws of where you live.

Never fired a shot. Hand on a holstered pistol or a slung rifle not pointed at anybody in particular has a habit of getting people who are being told "NO TRESPASSING!" to gather a clue and leave.

Shame you live in the land of no property rights. I understand first hand the beauty of the farmlands and moors of the UK and can see why people would desire to live there, but I couldn't tolerate that level of police state.

Best regards and good luck to the poor fellow.

Anonymous said...

From what I hear he's given up on the idea of shooting and brought a harley

Anonymous said...

Surely his best course of action would be to write to those who complained and get them to confirm that he didn't fire his gun in order to scare them off?