Malcolm White found not guilty of wounding after shooting at Whitbourne farm

Worcester News: Malcolm White with his partner Josephine Merrick Malcolm White with his partner Josephine Merrick

THE cannabis farmer who defended his home by shooting a burglar in the leg has been cleared at Worcester Crown Court of wounding.

Malcolm White mouthed “thank you” as the jury of six men and six women filed past him after returning a unanimous not guilty verdict.

But the 64-year-old was not freed from the dock.

He has been in custody for several months and has to meet charges of cannabis growing and holding unlicensed firearms.

White injured would-be burglar Robert Richards after he smashed the lounge window at Stocking Gobbetts, Whitbourne, near Bromyard.

Mr White claimed that he had only intended to fire a warning shot.

But the shotgun blast went downwards causing a serious injury which resulted in Richards having his leg amputated.

Defence counsel Brian Dean said White had admitted firing the shot but had not intended to hit the intruder. He had intended to frighten him off by firing over his head.

Prosecutor Simon Phillips alleged that White, who had spent £20,000 building up his cannabis-growing enterprise, was guarding his stock.

He shot first, and asked questions later, he said.

In his final remarks to the jury, Judge Robert Juckes said they must be sure that White aimed to hit the intruder. A central issue was whether lethal force had been used out of all proportion.

The jury retired for three and a half hours at the end of the 10-day trial before returning their verdict.

Once they were discharged, counsel and the judge had a discussion on the next step in the case.

White has admitted growing cannabis and the argument will be whether it was for financial gain or for medicinal purposes.

He is also charged with firearm offences and the court was told that the minimum sentence was five years in prison.

The case is due to be heard today.


Worcester News: The small holding at Whitbourne where police discovered a cannabis farm


A CINEMATIC GUNFIGHT FOLLOWED BY THE REAL THING...

IT was the night Gunfight At The OK Corral was followed by a shoot-out at Stocking Gobbetts.

Deep in the countryside near Worcester, the garden of the Tudor four-bedroom house along Stocking Lane, off the A44 on the edge of the village of Whitbourne, near Bromyard, became the scene of a terrifying battle on a stormy night in October, 2011.

Malcolm White’s partner, 59-year-old Josephine Merrick had settled down for the evening with him on the sofa as, she agreed with Brian Dean, defending, they had done many times over the four years she had lived with him.

They switched on a recording they had made of a favourite Western – Gunfight At The OK Corral.

Their two dogs lay in baskets beneath the double glazed bay picture window that reached almost from floor to ceiling – it was, as Mr Dean suggested, a cosy scene repeated in many homes.

She paused the TV as she got up to make coffee in the kitchen at about 8pm but outside, as Mr Dean described it, a gang of burglars had pulled up and one had approached the window silently, unheard above the wind and rain.

The curtains were open and the room light was on.

It was impossible to see out but to anyone looking in, they would have been in plain view, “lit up like a Christmas tree,” Mr Dean said.

Miss Merrick saw one of the dogs look up and growl. The next second there was a “dreadful” sound, a pounding on the window.

She screamed hysterically as shards of the double glazing flew across the room with such force they bounced off the walls. The window frame buckled.

She said White tried to calm her then jumped to his feet and said, “I’ll get the bastard”.

He fetched his shotgun and went outside.

She told the court she initially thought it was a “brave” thing for him to do, to confront the nightmare outside, as Mr Dean suggested because otherwise “they would have got us”.

The ferocious assault on the window was carried out with brutish force, Mr Dean said.

Miss Merrick paced the living room, she told the court. She heard one gunshot from near the shattered window, then two pistol shots from further away.

She heard voices, shouting and swearing and scuffling noises on the gravel driveway and the voices moving away before she dared to look out and saw the top of a van outside in the lane, moving off. A silver Honda reversed off the drive and followed it.

Then he went to call the police and she heard him tell them not to put their sirens on because it was a quiet village. 

She was left alone, looking around the house, as he went away, possibly for a drive around the area to see what was happening, the court was told.

The nursery nurse and mother-of-three had met White seven years before the incident and moved in with him after he bought Stocking Gobbetts.

She knew about the cannabis farm and watered the plants and trimmed the buds – in October at Hereford Crown Court she was given 15 hours unpaid work and a 12-month supervision order after pleading guilty to her limited involvement in production.

Judge Robert Juckes said giving evidence at the trial of the burglars had been enough – she had alarms installed in her home and had moved addresses.

At Worcester Crown Court, she could not look at White.

She asked for special measures and a curtained screen was put across to shield her from having to see him as she described the “nightmare” of October 5, 2011.

No one was close enough to the isolated house to hear screams. No one had heard the gunshots and no one knew what had happened until much later.

But it was the night a gunfight leapt from the TV screen and into the real life of a quiet village.

 

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