A "hellish" two-and-a-half years is finally over for a Far North farmer cleared yesterday of wrongdoing for shooting at thieves he caught stealing his quad bike.
Paul McIntyre 47, was appearing in the Kaikohe District Court for a retrial on a charge that without reasonable cause he discharged a firearm in a manner likely to endanger the others' safety. He had pleaded not guilty.
The charge arose after he caught Sam Hati of Moerewa and cousins Ned and Ray Brown stealing a quad bike on his isolated farm late at night on October 20, 2002. The three men later pleaded guilty to stealing the bike.
McIntyre was earlier found not guilty of shooting Hati with reckless disregard for the safety of others, but the jury was unable to reach a verdict on the other charge.
In a dramatic twist to the retrial yesterday Judge Michael Lance directed the jury to find McIntyre not guilty. The jury took less than two minutes to do so. Judge Lance reserved his reasons for taking the unusual direction step and will release them at a later date.
His direction came after two days of intense legal argument between McIntyre's lawyers Barry Hart and Antony Shaw and Crown prosecutor Kim Thomas.
After the verdict was delivered a relieved Mr McIntyre said a "hellish" two-and-a-half-years fighting the charges were now over and he could get on with his life and farming. "I feel really relieved. I wasn't expecting this but I was hoping for it," he said.
The experience had been stressful for him and his family and friends, many of whom, including his mother Liz, were in the court yesterday to hear the verdict. "I just want to thank all my supporters, my family and friends, Northland Federated Farmers and all those people who made donations to help my defence," Mr McIntyre said. He did not want to comment on what message he thought the verdict would send to people intent on stealing from farmers and he intended to celebrate his acquittal with family and friends.
NFF spokesman Bill Guest was sure though what the verdict meant for people prepared to go on to farmers' land without permission, aiming to steal. "There is a very clear message here. Anybody who goes on to a farmer's property without permission and with the intention of getting up to mischief or looking for trouble had better watch out," Mr Guest said.
NFF had raised more than $50,000 to help Mr McIntyre's defence and Mr Guest said that showed the whole of New Zealand was behind the farmer. "People have had enough of crime and this says that any person is justified taking whatever action they deem necessary to protect themselves, their family and their property," he said.