Farmer who used tractor to flip Corsa off his land cleared of criminal damage

Fourth-generation farmer Robert Hooper argued an Englishman's home is his castle

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A farmer who was cleared by a jury after he defended his home and property by flipping a car off his land has been through months of hell, his partner said.

Fourth-generation hill farmer Robert Hooper argued in court that an Englishman’s home is his castle and he had been assaulted before mobile phone footage showed him using his tractor to shift the Vauxhall Corsa last June.

Supporters cheered the 57-year-old outside Durham Crown Court after a jury cleared him of dangerous driving and criminal damage following a four-day trial.

After the case, his partner, Kate Henderson, read a statement which said: “The overwhelming support of the local community and people from afar have kept him going during these last eight months of hell.

“We welcome the jury’s verdict and are thankful for it.”

Videos played in court showed how Mr Hooper used a telehandler with forks to lift the £16,000 car from the lane outside his farm in Newbiggin-in-Teesdale, County Durham, flip it, and push it on its side on to the road outside.

Shirtless passenger Charlie Burns, 21, who had been visiting the area that day and had drunk up to seven bottles of lager, was knocked to the ground by the vehicle’s lifting forks.

Mr Hooper had told the jury that he was punched by Mr Burns when he first politely asked him and the driver to leave as they were blocking access on what was a busy day on the farm.

He told the court he was aware of an “influx” of youths visiting the area that summer, causing anti-social behaviour, taking drugs, littering and damaging walls.

Mr Hooper claimed the younger man punched him twice in the farm buggy he was driving, splitting his lip.

He told the court: “I thought it was time to get out of there, and I said ‘If you don’t move it, I will’.

“My mind was racing.

“I thought ‘We have a bit of a problem here, there’s two of them, half my age’. I didn’t know what they had in terms of weapons, or what they were capable of doing.

“I thought if the car was off the property, that would be them off the property, out of the way.”

Mr Hooper said he was defending his property and himself.

He said: “I felt threatened and an Englishman’s home is his castle, and my castle starts at that front gate.”

In his closing speech to the jury, Michael Rawlinson, defending, gave the origin of the saying, referring to comments made by judge Sir Edward Coke which set legal precedents in 1604.

Referring to arguments about how Mr Hooper could have acted differently that day, Mr Rawlinson also quoted boxer Mike Tyson, saying: “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.”

Mr Hooper, who has no previous convictions, had had a busy day baling silage and had gone back to the farm for his tea, intending to go out again to carry on working later.

Mr Burns had been drinking with friends at Low Force waterfall and was intending to walk 52 miles back to South Tyneside.

He told the jury he then spotted his friend, Elliott Johnson, whose Corsa had suffered a double puncture, which was why they parked in the farmer’s lane.

In his closing remarks, David Ward, prosecuting, told the jury the Crown was not saying that Mr Hooper was a “thug”, but that his actions were “utterly irrational” that day.

Judge Ray Singh had outlined routes to verdicts for the jury, explaining the law surrounding self-defence and a defendant protecting himself and his property.

Outside court, Teesdale farmers who were there to support Mr Hooper welcomed the verdicts.

William Wearmouth told reporters: “He is absolutely first-class.

“He is a hard-working man, he will help anyone with anything.

“It’s great to see that the jury has realised this.”

John Dickinson said: “It’s a really good result for the local area.

“Robert is a very decent, upstanding man who shouldn’t have to have gone through all this.”