A farmer who used his forklift tractor to overturn and push a Vauxhall Corsa has been acquitted of his land after a row with the driver over access denied by a jury from dangerous driving and criminal damages after going through “months of hell”.
Robert Hooper, 57, a fourth-generation hill farmer, used a telescopic forklift to lift the car from a driveway outside his farm in Newbiegin in Tisdale, County Durham, flipped it over and pushed it on its side into the outer driveway and mobile phone footage showed it being shown at Crown Court in Durham. .
Hopper argued that “the Englishman’s home is his castle”, and claimed he was punched by Charlie Burns, 21, a passenger in the car, when he and the driver were first politely asked to leave as they were denying access on a busy day at the farm.
The jury heard Burns, who was visiting the area that day last June and drank up to seven bottles of beer, on the ground through the car lift forks.
Hopper, who has no previous convictions, claimed that the younger man punched him twice in the farm cart he was driving, causing his lip to split. He said he told the driver, Elliot Johnson, and Burns, “If you don’t move it, I will.”
“I thought, ‘We have a little problem here,’ there are two of them, half my age,” Huber said. “I didn’t know what weapons they had, or what they could do. I thought if the car was outside the property, it would be outside the property, out of the way.”
He told the court that he was aware of an “influx” of young people who visited the area that summer, some of whom were engaging in antisocial behaviour. “I felt threatened, and the Englishman’s house is his castle, and my castle starts from that front gate,” he added.
In his closing address to the jury, Michael Rawlinson, his defense, gave the origin of the saying, referring to comments made by Judge Sir Edward Cook, which set legal precedents in 1604.
Referring to arguments about how Hopper could have acted differently that day, Rawlinson also quoted boxer Mike Tyson, saying, “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.”
In a statement after Hopper’s acquittal, his partner, Kate Henderson, said, “The tremendous support from the local community and people from afar has kept him going through hell for the past eight months.”
Burns was drinking with friends at Low Force Waterfall and was intending to walk 52 miles south of Tyneside when he discovered his friend, Johnson, who had suffered a double-hole corsa, which is why they stopped in the farmer’s driveway, the jury heard.
In his closing remarks, David Ward, the attorney general, told the jury that Crown did not say Hopper was a “thug,” but that his actions were “completely irrational” that day.
The Teesdale farmers who were there to support Hooper welcomed the sentences after a four-day trial. William Wermouth told reporters, “He’s definitely first class. He’s a hardworking guy. He’ll help anyone with anything. It’s great to see that the jury has recognized that.”
“It’s a really good result for the local area,” said John Dickinson. “Robert is a very fit and straight guy and he shouldn’t have to go through all of this.”