Barrister killed by own gun - inquest

PUBLISHED: 09:51 22 October 2008 | UPDATED: 10:44 12 July 2010

A Norfolk barrister killed by his own shotgun on a grouse-shooting trip could have died after his weapon was triggered by a buckle on his Welling-ton boot, an inquest heard yesterday.

A Norfolk barrister killed by his own shotgun on a grouse-shooting trip could have died after his weapon was triggered by a buckle on his Welling-ton boot, an inquest heard yesterday.

Stephen Hall Franklin, a trustee of the Earsham-based Otter Trust, was being towed on a home-made two-wheeled “chariot” across a heavily- rutted moorland track when his loaded double-barrelled shotgun discharged, hitting him in the

neck and head. The married father-of-two of Wacton was killed instantly.

Mr Franklin, 58, a senior barrister who practised at East Anglian Chambers in Cathedral Close, Norwich, was visiting a nature reserve owned by the Otter Trust on Thorn Hope Moor in County Durham to kill a red grouse, the inquest in Darlington heard.

He met northern reserve gamekeeper Alan Collingwood at Newlands Farm, near Frosterley, Weardale, on August 24 last year.

The pair hitched a two-seated steel chariot built to ferry the trust's elderly founder on to the moors to a quad bike, and drove to the reserve.

When they reached the moor, Mr Franklin, who was riding in the chariot, cocked and loaded his gun.

He told Mr Collingwood he would shout “stop” should he spot a red grouse, so he could take a shot.

But soon after driving on to the moor along the heavily-rutted and boggy access track, Mr Collingwood heard Mr Franklin's shotgun discharge and the barrister fell dead from the chariot.

A firearms expert for Durham police said it was possible Mr Franklin's shotgun was triggered by accident. PC Christopher Barber said Mr Franklin's gun had at the time of his death recently been serviced and was in “good working order”.

He subjected the weapon to a series of tests and concluded it could not have gone off unless something had hit or pulled the first trigger, which discharged the right barrel. And he said there was nothing within easy reach in the chariot which could have triggered the weapon.

But he said it was possible the buckle on the side of one of Mr Franklin's studded Wellington boots had slipped inside the trigger guard of the gun and pulled the trigger.

Mr Franklin's stepfather Philip Wayre, who founded and is the administrator for the Otter Trust, said the trailer was designed and built in County Durham to his specifications. It was not intended as a shooting platform but to help him get across the moors.

Mr Franklin was described as a “gentle, courteous, charming” man who loved the countryside and had a great zest for life.

His wife of 27 years, Julie, said she admired her husband, but could be infuriated by his cavalier attitude to his own safety.

The inquest heard Mr Franklin was HIV positive but had responded well to treatment and was in good health.

Coroner for County Durham Andrew Tweddle said: “Mr Franklin's family has had to sit through some harrowing evidence and has borne it extremely well.”

Mrs Franklin wept as the jury returned a verdict of accidental death.

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