Tony Martin likes to visit graveyards. He likes to study the headstones, consider the history and enjoy the silence. Sometimes — ever the farmer — he fumes at the overgrowth and has a tidy-up. It has got him into trouble.
‘I don’t believe in God, but I’ve tidied up a couple of churchyards around here,’ he says. ‘They looked a bloody mess. But they don’t like it. The Vicar of Dibley comes out and tells me they are going to get the police.’
The Vicar of Dibley? ‘It’s a woman vicar.’
Having witnessed him pottering in his own garden — last time we met, he kindly sent me home with cuttings — his penchant for guerrilla gardening comes as no surprise.
Tony Martin, 74, pictured, has revealed he visited the grave of the teenager he killed not out of 'respect but curiosity' and he didn't feel any remorse
What is odd, though, is that he can’t see the irony in another landowner taking exception to him going about his business on property that isn’t his.
This is Tony Martin, the farmer who killed a burglar who had trespassed on his land, and whose case still provokes heated debate about how far we should be able to go to protect ourselves and our property.
It is 20 years since the awful events of that night. It was August 20, 1999, when Martin awoke to realise there were intruders in his home, the aptly named Bleak House. The Norfolk farmer, who had a history of holding illegal firearms, had a gun to hand and used it.
Fred Barras, 16, pictured, died after Mr Martin shot him in the back as he was running away from the farmer's Norfolk home Bleak House
Both the burglars came from the travelling community, whose members had long blighted Martin’s life.
Out of terror, or rage, he fired at them. Brendon Fearon, 29, fled with his life. Sixteen-year-old Fred Barras was not so lucky. Hit in the back as he tried to run away, he died at the scene. Tony Martin was duly charged, amid howls of protest about a homeowner’s right to self-defence.
He was convicted of murder, but this was later reduced to manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility. While he was in custody, Martin, a complex character, was diagnosed with Asperger syndrome.
I first met Tony in prison, where he served three years of his five-year sentence. I shared an extraordinary car journey with him on the day of his release in 2003 and have visited him several times over the years.
Each meeting has served only to further muddy the waters about whether we should regard him as a hero or a dangerous vigilante.
Today, we have another strange encounter as the conversation bounces from rural crime to Donald Trump via our new Prime Minister. ‘How is Boris Karloff?’ he asks.
They used to call him Mad Martin even before he became infamous. He would sleep fully clothed, with his boots on.
Mr Martin has not stepped back inside his home since the incident on 20 August 1999 as he believes it has been 'tainted'. Pictured are outbuildings in the grounds close to the house
The case from 20 years ago provoked heated debate about how far we should be able to go to protect ourselves and our property from intruders. Pictured are police at the scene in 1999
Extraordinarily, those boots still have not been back inside Bleak House, the rambling old farmhouse that he killed to defend.
He still owns it, but the once-proud redbrick building, off the beaten track in the hamlet of Emneth Hungate, always hidden behind trees, is now invisible, choked with ivy. Branches grow into and out of the structure. These days, it is bleaker than bleak.
A police cone still sits outside. There are locks on the doors. Others have been in.
‘Not with my permission,’ Martin growls, when I tell him that a blogger recently posted footage of the interior, astounded that there were animal carcasses strung from the ceiling.
Mr Martin, pictured at his home in Wisbech, said he 'didn’t feel anything' when he visited Barras' grave in Newark, the Midlands
But not Martin. Although he still tends the gardens and potters about the barns and outbuildings, where he has since installed CCTV cameras, he can’t — won’t — set foot in the house again. ‘Bleak House is no more. It’s redundant. It just sits there. Everyone has been in except me. When it all happened, it was tainted. Violated.’
Last time we met, I suspected he was sleeping in his car, judging by its state, but now he sleeps ‘here for a bit and there for a bit’, with friends.
Does he have many friends? ‘Well, people have been very generous with me, but, recently, I think people are getting fed up with me.
‘People can get contaminated with other people. They have their own lives. Relationships, they do run down after a while. But I don’t fall out with people — they fall out with me.’
When we last met, we stood on the spot in the garden where Fred Barras died, and Martin called him ‘vermin’.
Today, however, he tells me he has since visited Barras’s grave — which is quite a revelation.
‘I was up in Newark at the Midlands Show and there is a huge cemetery there. Well, Mr Barras is there, buried up the far end. It’s quite hard to find.
‘There was a man there and I asked where I’d find him [Barras] and he showed me. And there he was. Then he left me there.’
Martin continues: ‘I stood for a minute or so, just looked at the headstone. There was a picture of him on it — the same one I’d seen in the papers.’
He sips his coffee. There is no emotion. What was he thinking as he stood there? ‘I didn’t feel anything. I just stood there, totally removed from what I was looking at.
‘I did think about how everything is of our own making, though. And that applies to him.’
But why seek out the grave? Out of respect? His eyes harden. ‘It wasn’t respect, no. It was curiosity.’
Mr Martin also wounded Barras' accomplice Brendon Fearon, 29, pictured in December 1999, with his unlicensed shotgun
During the trial Mr Martin's past was discussed and it was revealed he had been abused by a schoolmaster. The farmer is pictured outside his farmhouse in Norfolk after the shooting
Did he never feel remorse at killing a 16-year-old? ‘I’ve been called a “kiddie killer”,’ he says, both baffled and furious. But he still believes, vehemently, that he did the right thing. ‘I did nothing wrong,’ he insists. ‘I did what anyone would do.’
And he’d do it again? ‘If the circumstances were the same, yes. Anyone would.’
We go over the events of that night. He gets wound up describing how he lay there, listening to the intruders. ‘I thought: “Right, Tony. This is it. What do you do now?” ’ It was dark. He puts his hand to his chest and describes the ‘boom, boom, boom’ his heart was making.
‘I don’t know if it was the adrenaline — but I was terrified. But you know what courage is? I didn’t until then. It’s when you overcome your fear.’
He got out of bed, couldn’t at first find his gun, and then he did. He didn’t know who or what he was firing at, but he fired and fired.
Fred Barras lost his life that night and, in some ways, Martin lost his, too.
A mobile police station was set up outside the grounds of Mr Martin's farm in 2003 after he was released from prison. Mr Martin had protection due to the threat of revenge attacks
At the trial Mr Martin was called paranoid with the prosecution saying the shooting was the result of a long-term obsession with ‘gypos’. A police officer is pictured in the grounds of Mr Martin's property, Bleak House Farm, in 2003 on the day he was released from prison
His life became public property. Elements that had been private were suddenly public. To his horror, past abuse he had suffered at the hands of a schoolmaster was brought up in court. His elderly mother gave an interview in which she — his great defender — questioned his temper.
‘Mother said something that didn’t help. She said I could have a short fuse. I don’t think that is true. I have two fuses. Maybe one is short, if I’m in an emergency. But one is long. I’d had a lot of things to deal with in my life. Things that leave marks.
‘Yes, I was abused at school. Then I lost someone, a woman. But all these things, I’d coped with them. I’d got on with my life. Then, when something happens, like what did happen, they all come out again.’
He is still wearing his beloved green beret, I note, which was always either on his head or in his hand.
‘It’s a different one,’ he says. ‘The original is gone. Stolen.’
Mr Martin, pictured now, believes the county is under siege from immigrants and thieves and that ordinary decent folk are ‘barricading themselves in their homes’
We are at the office of a friend who takes him in from time to time, where Tony has prepared a folder of evidence to show the police he is still being targeted.
‘I have to go all the way to King’s Lynn to actually get inside a police station,’ he says. ‘Round here, you’ll be lucky to see a policeman.’
The folder contains photographs taken from CCTV footage of his shed on fire. ‘This was on my property,’ he says. ‘Arsonists. Who are they? You’ll see it’s daylight, too. They don’t even want to come in the dark any more.’
He becomes visibly distressed debating what these men might have been after, recalling other instances in the recent past when his property has been targeted.
‘The police don’t care. It’s got worse. It was bad before. Now I live in a s****y bloody country. I still can’t believe what they did to me.’
At his trial, Tony Martin was called paranoid. His killing of Barras was, the prosecution said, the result of a long-term obsession with ‘gypos’ who were out to take his tractors, machinery and anything else they could find.
His remote corner of Norfolk was plagued by thieves targeting farmers, he argued — and there were plenty to support him.
There are still those who say rural crime is the scourge of these parts. Over the past few months, there has been another spate of break-ins across the county, to the point where farmers have had meetings with the police to discuss their concerns. So the issues that landed Tony Martin in jail continue to plague his fellow farmers.
Yet he took it to the extreme. ‘Yes,’ he admits. ‘I am extreme. Mother always said she was worried about me. A woman said to me the other day: “I think you revel in it.” I don’t revel in it at all, but I am liable to get locked up again the way things are going.’
In his version of events, this county is under siege from immigrants and thieves. Ordinary decent folk are ‘barricading themselves in their homes’. If the police don’t do something, people will be ‘marching on the streets’. He is a great supporter of the U.S. President. ‘I think we need Trump here,’ he says.
Martin never was a reasonable man. His views are often objectionable. He can be racist, sexist. Today, he is definitely homophobic. He says homosexuals and paedophiles are ‘the same thing’.
Yes, perhaps his views have been shaped by his warped childhood experiences, but he doesn’t seem to understand that those views are abhorrent and illogical. ‘You might think I’m bigoted,’ he says.
TV show The Interrogation on Channel 4 saw League of Gentleman star Steve Pemberton (left), 51, as Mr Martin and Line of Duty's Daniel Mays (right), 40, as a policeman who interviewed him
The Interrogation, starring Pemberton and Mays, aired last year and followed the three days Mr Martin was questioned by police
‘Tony, you are bigoted,’ I reply.
‘I am not,’ he huffs, and goes into a rant about political correctness. He can be impossible. Sometimes, he doesn’t seem capable of compassion. Then he surprises you.
Back in 2003, he broke down and cried about his dog. Today, it is about his mother, who died in 2011 and who loved him and despaired of him in equal measure.
‘She fell at the top of the stairs, which is the one thing I told her she mustn’t do. I said: “Don’t fall, Mother, do not fall”, but she did. She went into hospital to have an operation and she didn’t come round from the anaesthetic.’
He got a phone call? He shakes his head. His relationships with his family seem fraught. He says he doesn’t know whether his brother is dead or alive.
‘I went to the house. My aunt was in the garden, talking to someone. I knew it was about Mother.’
He starts to cry. His shoulders go up, his head down and his whole body shakes.
‘I’m a very emotional man,’ he says, eventually.
He is not a religious man, but, since his mother died, he has felt her presence. ‘I was out one day and all these seagulls swooped down. One was bigger than the rest. I thought: “Mother?” ’
Outside the window today, there is cawing. Seagulls. ‘It’s Mother,’ he jokes. ‘She’s keeping an eye on me.’
He talks about how he never wanted to let her down. Did he do that? ‘I never actually asked her how she coped when I was in prison. I don’t know.
‘I do know that I lied to Mother, once. She asked me if I was happy. I said yes.’
He seems perfectly aware that his mother rooted his life. ‘That’s the danger, basically. I haven’t got Mother to let down.’
Is he dangerous? What a preposterous idea, he says. There have always been worries about his mental state, and his doctor must think he is depressed, because he is on antidepressants.
‘I’ve been having these headaches and this ringing in my head, but, when they get that sorted, I’ll be fine. I need to get back to work.’
He no longer farms seriously, but he does have land and that house. Why not sell it, Tony? ‘And buy a Bentley?’ he says, humorous again. ‘No, thanks.’
The Sunday Post first discovered the poem “The Cranky Old Man” more than 40 years ago.