Tony Martin is not a worldly man. He has never been to San Francisco. It’s probable that he’s never even been to London. He’s a middle-aged man who, until two and one half years ago, lived a quiet, unexceptional life in a remote farmhouse in Norfolk, one of England’s least populated counties.
Because he lived alone in a place without neighbors, and was judged, by their own low standards, to be faintly eccentic, he became the target of local Gypsy raiders, who broke into his home and robbed him several times. Each time, Martin called the police, who sometimes turned up an hour or two later, or didn’t turn up at all, citing the distance they’d have to come. After each robbery, Martin responded by boarding up more windows and jamming the doors. He had no neighbors to turn to for help.
Fatefully, in August 1999, two Gypsies broke into Martin’s home while he slept. In a blind panic the 55 year-old Martin took his gun out of the cupboard, crept down the stairs and fired three shots blindly into the dark, intending only to frighten them away. One wounded 30 year-old Brendan Fearon. The second shot killed 17 year old Fred Barras. Subsequent forensic evidence proved his assertion that he fired in the dark in a blind panic.
Martin then called an ambulance and made the only phone call to police that ever caught their attention.
Martin became a hero in Britain, a country where self-defense has been legislated away in a mush of Princess Diana-esque "emotional intelligence." This is a country where private citizens were outlawed from keeping a gun after a madman broke into a Scottish school and killed several children a few years ago. One madman and millions of law-abiding, sane people were deprived of their ancient right to self-defense. When only the police and the military are armed, the authorities tend to become distanced from the ordinary, unarmed citizenry, and unquestionably the police have become less responsive and less friendly in recent years.
A fund established for Martin’s defense was overwhelmed with contributions.
Natural justice was once again thwarted when Martin was found guilty of murder. In the face of public fury, the charge was later reduced to manslaughter and his five year sentence was reduced by one-third. But Martin had done no wrong by any civilized measure of judgement.
He has now served two and one-half years and he came up before the Parole Board two weeks ago. Martin has been a cooperative and untroublesome prisoner. He keeps to himself, but shows no hostility to other prisoners or the guards. But he was refused parole because he has failed to show remorse. He refuses to go along with the thought police. He still thinks he had a right to protect himself and his property. If he’d shown remorse and expressed Clintonian pain for Fred Barras’s death, he would be out today. But he’s made of sterner stuff and refused to wrap himself in the mantle of political thought fascism.
That he has shown no remorse led the Orwellian Parole Board to refuse him freedom on the grounds that he poses a "threat to burglars."
At the same hearing, authorities cited another damning cause for refusal of parole: "He tends to think things were better 50 years ago." This sentiment surely puts Martin in the land of the sane. Who doesn’t think things were better when parents weren’t afraid to allow children to walk to school, when there was general respect for law and order, when there were no hordes of illegal immigrants begging with their children in the streets and subway stations, when police took threats of life and liberty seriously? Tony Martin seems a good deal more tethered to reality than the British Parole Board.
Finally, the Parole Board sneered, "He doesn’t seem to be up to speed with the 21st Century." Well, heaven forefend! Lock him up forever and throw away the key! Society needs to be protected from people who are mildly out of kilter with the new century!
Tony Martin was said by a friend to have been "depressed" by the judgement.
This case take place against a background in which, a month or so ago, a senior member of the judiciary handed down "guidance" that judges should no longer send "first time burglars who didn’t use violence in the course of their burglary" to prison because British jails were "too overcrowded". They should, instead, be given community service sentences. So now the word is out to ambitious British burglars everywhere: First time’s free.
Later the Lord Chief Justice, the most senior legal figure in Britain (a political appointee of Tony Blair) stated, in response to outraged letters to the newspapers, that he couldn’t believe most people wanted first time burglars (meaning, let us remember, "first time caught") to go to prison. He didn’t believe the law-abiding British were upset by the new guidelines. Something tells me that being chauffeured around in a government provided limousine, drawing an immense salary from the taxpayer and living in luxurious and well-policed housing causes dementia praecox in the legal profession.
Before the British could recover from their outrage over the latest dismantling of law and order in Britain, the head of the Metropolitan Police (London’s police force, which can’t keep the law, yet is much bigger and better paid than New York’s police force, which manages to keep its citizens safe) announced to the press that the police would no longer even investigate burglaries forget calling the police unless the perpetrator were obvious and there was plenty of evidence against him. In other words, unless he crept out of your house in a Zorro mask carrying a big sack marked Booty and happened to have jotted his name and address down on your telephone pad. It was announced that the Metropolitan police will henceforth be saving their manpower for the three most important offences in the country: Murder, rape and hate crimes. Defending property is now formally no longer on the table in London.
The chief of police seems perplexed by the public outcry. "We will still," he explained patiently, "take a note of any burglaries reported for statistical purposes." They just won’t investigate them.
Meanwhile, Fred Barras’s companion-in-crime Brendon Fearon had his three-and-a-half year sentence reduced by half and was released in August 2001. Fred Barras’s father has been sent to prison for 14 years for leading a £400,000 ($600,000) armed robbery. Fred Barras’s 69 year-old grandmother is facing charges of possessing an illegal firearm and assisting an offender. And Fred Barras’s mother is suing Tony Martin for wrongful death.