Shotgun farmer wins legal appeal

A farmer who shouted “get off my land” as she pointed a double-barrelled shotgun at a balloonist has had her jail term halved by top judges.

Marie Dring, 51, loaded the gun and held it at Martin Henley’s chest after the hot air balloon he and his wife were riding in landed on her Northamptonshire chicken farm.

Ms Dring, of Beech House Farm, Potterspury, Towcester, was jailed for 18 months at Northampton Crown Court on 18 May after she admitted possessing a firearm with intent to cause fear of violence.

But judges at London’s Criminal Appeal Court on Tuesday (3 August) slashed the sentence to nine months – describing the case as “unique”.

Mr Justice Foskett, sitting with Mr Justice Mackay, told the court Mr Henley and his wife took off in the balloon from Northampton Racecourse on 12 September last year. The balloon was followed by a support vehicle and a convoy of cars driven by family and friends of the Henleys.

The court heard it is often not possible to predict where a hot air balloon will land, so permission is often sought from the landowner as the balloon approaches somewhere.

On this occasion the support vehicle, which was tracking the balloon on behalf of the balloon-ride company, attempted to make contact with the landowners, but Mr Justice Foskett said it was unclear whether these attempts succeeded.

After the balloon landed on Ms Dring’s chicken farm, her brother-in-law – unhappy about the intrusion – spoke to pilot David Griffin, who apologised, handing over bottles of champagne and whisky, and everything seemed amicable.

The brother-in-law then contacted Dring and her husband, who were eating in a restaurant in Milton Keynes, and they returned to the farm immediately.

The court heard the farm has about 6500 free-range chickens which produce eggs and Dring was concerned what effect the balloon and its occupants might have on her livestock.

As Ms Dring arrived back, she saw the convoy of cars parked in her drive and told the occupants she was going to “set the bloody dogs” on them. One of the witnesses said Dring “went off on one” and was behaving “like a looney”.

She then drove her Land Rover towards where the balloon had landed, when she came across Mr Henley and pointed the shotgun out of the window at him.

Dring, who has degrees in philosophy and criminology, shouted “Get of my land, get of my f******* land”, before pointing the weapon at his chest and loading it with two cartridges.

Mr Henley walked away with his hands up and she drove behind him, revving the engine and slightly nudging him with the car.

Ms Dring was arrested three days later and intially denied the incident, saying she had threatened Mr Henley with a stick. However, she later admitted the offence, but said she had left the safety catch on the firearm, as she never intended to use it.

Lawyers acting for Dring today argued the jail term was too long, saying she was of “exemplary good character” prior to the offence and was a part-time carer for her elderly mother and mother-in-law.

Cutting her sentence to nine months, Mr Justice Foskett described the case as “unique” and said the reduced term reflected the “competing” features to consider.

However, he said using firearms to indimidate would “not be tolerated” and that a woman with her qualifications should have “appreciated more than most” the dangers of doing so.

He added: “Threatening anyone with a loaded shotgun, whatever the background of the person doing it, or whatever the provocation, will always be met with a custodial sentence.”

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