The real history behind Channel 4’s The Interrogation of Tony Martin

Tony Martin became a national talking point in 1999 when he shot and killed a burglar in his home

THE INTERROGATION: TONY MARTIN

Channel 4’s “verbatim drama” The Interrogation of Tony Martin will reignite discussion of the famous and controversial news story from 1999.

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Starring Steve Pemberton, Danny Mays and Stuart Graham, it takes us inside the police interview room during Martin’s interrogation which is recreated word-for-word from the original transcripts.

Here’s what you need to know about the real-life case…


What happened when burglars broke into Tony Martin’s house?

One of the difficulties of the Tony Martin case is it has been tricky to work out exactly what happened on the fateful night of 20th August 1999, and what Martin’s intentions really were.

At the time of the incident, Martin was living alone at his Norfolk farmhouse, a remote property nicknamed Bleak House where he had lived for two decades. Misanthropic, nervous and isolated, he had been repeatedly burgled over the years. The building was chaotic and badly kept, and Martin lived upstairs with his three rottweilers and his shotgun by his bed.

That evening, two burglars – Irish Travellers Brendon Fearon, 29, and Fred Barras, 16 – broke into his house.

Martin shot three times towards the intruders, using his illegally-owned pump-action shotgun which he had loaded with birdseed. Barras was hit in the back and legs, and although he escaped through the window he died of his injuries at the property.

Fearon was also shot in the legs, but fled the scene – as did getaway driver Darren Bark.

Steve Pemberton, The Interrogation (C4, EH)
Steve Pemberton plays Tony Martin in The Interrogation (Channel 4)

In the aftermath, Martin said he had been burgled ten times – although police were unable to confirm that number.

He had previously had his shotgun certificate revoked after he shot towards a man who had been scrumping for apples in his orchard, but regardless he had never held a firearms certificate for a pump-action shotgun.

The prosecution accused him of lying in wait and opening fire on the burglars without warning as retribution for previous break-ins at his home.

For his part, Martin stated that he had opened fire after being woken when the intruders smashed a window and had used reasonable force to defend himself and his property.


Why was Tony Martin’s case so controversial?

The Media Gather At Tony Martin's Bleak House Farm
The media gathers at Tony Martin’s Bleak House farm (Getty)

The Tony Martin case became a lightening rod for a national debate about a homeowner’s right to self-defence.

His arrest (and subsequent conviction) for murder and his life-sentence provoked an outcry from certain corners.

But while he was awaiting trial, Martin had his bail revoked for his own protection and was taken to Norwich prison. Death threats were also made against him and there were reports of a £60,000 price tag on his head.


Was Tony Martin found guilty of murder?

Three days after the shooting, following the police interview we see on screen in Channel 4’s The Interrogation, Martin was charged with the murder of Barras, the attempted murder of Fearon, “wounding with intent to cause injury” to Fearon, and “possessing a firearm with intent to endanger life.”

Under English law, a person can kill in self-defence only if they use “reasonable” force, leaving it up to the jury to determine whether an unreasonable amount of force was used.

At Martin’s trial, the jury returned a verdict of murder by a 10 to 2 majority.

He was sentenced to life imprisonment with a minimum term of eight years.

In a subsequent appeal, the defence submitted evidence that Martin had been diagnosed with Asperger syndrome, and with paranoid personality disorder where his paranoia had been specifically directed at anyone intruding into his home.

The Court of Appeal accepted this submission and reduced his murder conviction to manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility. In 2003 he was released after serving three years in prison.


Where is Tony Martin now? 

Tony Martin, The Interrogation (Getty, KB)
Tony Martin (Getty)

Martin is now 74. He still owns Bleak House, but since his release from prison in 2003 he has not returned to live there, and it has remained boarded up with sheet metal since the shooting.

The Interrogation’s writer and director Dave Nash says he is an elusive figure these days, explaining: “Tony, he’s got a mobile phone but it’s seldom switched on. I don’t know where he lives. After two years, still don’t really know where he lives.

“[Producer] Emily I think got hold of him through a friend of his, and whenever we wanted to go visit him, we’d either just go on spec and just go and find him in Wisbech – I know that sounds mad but we would normally find him – or get a message to somebody else who would be able to locate him.”

The Telegraph reports that Martin has spent his years since prison living with friends or staying in a hotel and in his car, refusing to return to Bleak House in case he is burgled again.

He told the newspaper: “I just live anywhere, I sleep anywhere. If I go up north to a farm show then I will just stay in my car. I live a little bit like Bonnie Prince Charlie and go from place to place. I have very kind friends.”

In 2004, he urged people to vote for the British National Party and UKIP, and said he had been to gatherings of the far-right National Front. In 2015 he was held on suspicion of illegal firearm possession, but was not charged.

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The Interrogation of Tony Martin airs on Sunday 18th November at 9pm on Channel 4


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