Friday, November 14, 2014

Young farmer who shot at escaping burglars to stop them running over his mother sues crime tsar who accused him of endangering the public

A young farmer who fired a shotgun to protect his mother from being run over by intruders is suing a controversial crime tsar who claimed he endangered the public.

Bill Edwards, 23, has accused North Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner Julia Mulligan and North Yorkshire Police of smearing him – then squandering tens of thousands of pounds of taxpayers’ money to fight the £50,000 libel case at court.

He claims remarks Mrs Mulligan made in a radio interview – based on police advice – were libellous and have led to him being shunned by potential employers.

Former public schoolboy Mr Edwards was arrested on suspicion of attempted murder in August 2012 after catching two burglars red-handed as they tried to steal tools, furniture and scrap metal from his family's property.

As his mother, Louisa Smith, frantically dialled the police for help, one thief fled on foot while the other jumped into a Ford Transit van and accelerated towards her.

Fearing for their lives, Mr Edwards fired his legally-held shotgun at the vehicle as Mrs Smith screamed: Shoot out the tyres.’

Mr Edwards hit the windscreen and bodywork — but nobody was hurt. They then gave chase, with the farmer driving while his mother gave a running commentary to police on her mobile phone. Police eventually caught culprit David Taylor a few miles away.

Despite the terrifying ordeal at the isolated woodland property near Scarborough, North Yorkshire, Mr Edwards was arrested, locked up overnight and had his guns confiscated.

In December 2012 – after languishing on bail for four months– police dropped the charges after prosecutors concluded he used ‘reasonable force in self-defence’.

Meanwhile, Taylor, who claimed he had been ‘traumatised’ during the break-in, was charged with theft and escaped with a paltry £100 fine – prompting Mr Edwards to tell his story to the Daily Mail.

But in January 2013, Mrs Mulligan gave an interview to BBC Radio York claiming there were ‘exceptional circumstances’ which had led to his arrest.

Despite being completely exonerated, the Tory crime tsar – under fire for spending £10,000 on ‘branding’ including a new logo at a time of crippling police cuts – suggested Mr Edwards had not told the truth, according to court papers.

She told listeners there were ‘aspects of this case that are quite serious and I think that those details are not in the public domain… We cannot let people get the impression that they can take the law into their own hands.’

Court documents claim the PCC was wrongly briefed by senior North Yorkshire Police officers that Mr Edwards tried to shoot out the thief’s tyres during the high-speed chase – rather than while he was standing in the farm’s yard.

In its defence to the lawsuit, North Yorkshire Police admitted Acting Assistant Chief Constable Ken McIntosh had ‘apologised’ for passing ‘inaccurate information’ to the crime tsar. It ‘extended’ the apology to Mr Edwards, but insisted this was ‘without any admission of liability for defamation’.

Mr Edwards said Mrs Mulligan’s remarks were defamatory and that it is hard for him to find work because farmers in the community now think he is a liar.

He is also challenging the police over a decision to confiscate his shotgun and other firearms which he used to control pests on farmland and revoke his license.

He said: ‘After the thief was fined they had me on the news and radio and then they had the police on. That should have been the conclusion of everything.

‘But [Julia Mulligan] went and made these statements that destroyed everything. My boss came out and told me to leave work because he heard that on the radio and sent me home.

‘I went from being a hero who saved my mum’s life while standing up to a thief, to people thinking there was something I was hiding. Their assumption was, "What is he not telling us? What is he hiding?"

‘It is a huge burden because people who I used to work with think I’m a liar who has not been telling the truth.

‘Farmers have tens of thousands pounds of equipment and machinery and why would they trust me on their machinery? You're finished if something happens and they don't trust you.

‘I was hoping for an on-air apology to rectify what she had said because it has had a huge effect on me, but she has refused.’

A court hearing is pencilled in for Leeds High Court in January, where the commissioner – elected to hold the force into account – will be represented by the same legal team as the police, prompting concerns about a conflict of interest.

Solicitor Andrew Gray, who represents Mr Edwards, said: ‘My client's life has become a living hell, due to the actions and failures of North Yorkshire Police and its Police and Crime Commissioner. Bill is a hero, not a villain, and he should be have been treated accordingly.’

The case is understood to have cost North Yorkshire Police around £40,000 of taxpayers’ money.

The force claim it would be ‘inappropriate’ to comment on the case.

Mrs Mulligan said: ‘Mr Edwards has instigated legal proceedings and it isn’t appropriate that either of us should comment on the details of a live legal case. We need to let this case follow due process and I have every confidence that it will come to an appropriate outcome.’

Original report here

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