A gyrocopter pilot has been found not guilty of killing a hunt supporter who was struck by the machine’s propeller.
Bryan Griffiths, 55, was acquitted of the manslaughter by gross negligence of Warwickshire Hunt member Trevor Morse at Long Marston airfield in March 2009.
Birmingham Crown Court heard Mr Morse, 48, refused to move as the craft neared him and died instantly when struck.
Mr Griffiths, of Wiltshire Close, Bedworth, had been monitoring the hunt and stopped at the airfield to refuel.
The court was told Mr Morse, a committee member of the Warwickshire Hunt, had driven to the airfield with another hunt supporter to confront Mr Griffiths.
Mr Griffiths said Mr Morse moved his Land Rover to partly block the gyrocopter.
He said he asked him “politely” to move but Mr Morse replied “you are going nowhere”.
Mr Griffiths told the court that, while in the air, he believed he had been shot at from the ground and feared a “gang” was on the way to attack him.
He told the court he felt “there was imminent danger” to himself as Mr Morse was speaking on a mobile phone and he feared severe injury “if others turned up”.
“ I am absolutely devastated by this result ”
The incident was filmed by Peter Bunce, who had taken fuel to the airfield.
The jury was shown a video clip in which a voice can be heard telling Mr Morse that he was obstructing take-off and the propellers were then heard to speed up, followed by a bang.
Jurors heard that Mr Morse’s head was cut “from top to bottom” by the blade of the gyrocopter.
The rear propellor of the aircraft was moving at a speed approaching 200mph, the court heard.
In an interview, Mr Griffiths had told police he was aiming for a gap when he drove the gyrocopter and the jury were asked to consider this when watching the video.
‘Pin it in’
The jury heard that Mr Morse, a road monitor with the hunt, and one of the hunt masters, had “a plan” to prevent the gyrocopter from taking off when it stopped to refuel.
Anthony Spencer, one of the hunt’s six masters, said they had agreed to “pin it in” and keep it on the ground so they could take photographs of the pilot.
An eye witness described how Mr Morse arrived at the airfield in his blue Land Rover, which he parked at the nose of the gyrocopter, and began taking pictures.
Michael Tipping, who described himself as an “aviation fanatic”, told the court he found Mr Morse’s manner “intrusive and aggressive”.
Warwickshire Police issued a statement on behalf of Caroline Morse, Mr Morse’s partner of 23 years.
Her statement read: “I am absolutely devastated by this result. I am neither pro nor anti hunt.
“It has been a long 12 months since Trevor’s tragic death and we are still coming to terms with our loss.
“The family is very grateful for the support we have received from Warwickshire Police throughout this investigation and trial.”
‘Kill for sport’
Speaking outside the court, the Countryside Alliance’s Clare Rowson, talking on behalf of Mr Morse’s family and friends, said: “If there is one outcome from these horrific events… it must be that the activity which led to Trevor Morse’s death is not repeated.
“It is not for animal rights extremists to police the Hunting Act or any other law, especially not using clearly unsafe things such as a gyrocopter or any other aircraft.”
Speaking outside the court, Judy Gilbert, a hunt monitor and friend of Mr Griffiths, said: “We just wanted to say how absolutely delighted and relieved we are that Mr Griffiths has been found not guilty.
“He certainly didn’t mean anybody any harm and it’s just so sad to us that this tragedy has happened because people want to chase animals for sport and kill them, when it has been made illegal by our parliament.”