FOUR thugs caged for a horrific raid on a farmhouse in which a businessman was crushed to death have had their conviction challenges rejected by top judges.
Brothers Terrence and Marcus Bristow - aged 43 and 33 - Paul Dunn, 34, and Lee Delay, 24, all from Kent, were jailed at Lewes Crown Court in April last year after they were convicted of the manslaughter of Julian Gardner.
The four men were also found guilty of conspiracy to burgle the 52-year-old’s workshops at Bush Barn Farm in Robertsbridge, which was described in court as a “very substantial property”.
The case reached London’s Appeal Court as the four challenged their manslaughter convictions with claims that they never envisaged Mr Gardner might die in the burglary.
Lord Justice Treacy, who dismissed their appeals, said the facts surrounding Mr Gardner’s death remained unclear, but added: “The overwhelming likelihood is that he intervened while the burglary was taking place.”
He said a six-strong gang took part in the raid, in which off-road vehicles were used to gain access to Mr Gardner’s tightly guarded farm.
The men were on the hunt for high-value vehicles and tools, and Mr Gardner probably died after bravely confronting the intruders.
His body was found by a friend the following morning outside his workshops, said the judge, who added that a post mortem established devastating multiple injuries - including fractures to the neck and skull.
“The pathologist’s conclusion was that death had been caused by Mr Gardner being struck or run over by one or more of the motor vehicles at the scene,” said the judge.
Another expert suggested that Mr Gardner’s neck had been snapped when initially hit by a car, while his body was then crushed when “a vehicle passed over him while he was on the ground”.
The four men’s legal team pointed out that there was no evidence as to who - if anyone - was driving the vehicle which struck Mr Gardner, or even about who was present in the courtyard when he met his death.
The prosecution accepted it could not establish who was driving the offending vehicle, but claimed that by participating in the burglary the four men had a joint responsibility for killing Mr Gardner.
That issue came before Lord Justice Treacy in the Appeal Court, who ruled against the four men, dashing their hopes of overturning the manslaughter verdicts.
The judge, sitting with Mr Justice Hamblin and Mr Justice Nicol, rejected claims that the men’s convictions were ‘unsafe’ because Mr Gardner’s death had not been “foreseeable”.
The Bristow brothers, both from Great Chart, Ashford, were each jailed for 11 years over the raid, while Dunn, of Frythe Crescent, Cranbrook, and Delay, of Whitegate Close, Tunbridge Wells, each received seven-year sentences.
The brothers had both also appealed their sentences but, dismissing their challenge, Lord Justice Treacy said: “It was the Bristows who were the prime movers in a burglary which was dangerous, carried a risk of harm, and ultimately resulted in a death”.