Farmer who flipped car cleared of criminal damage because ‘Englishman’s home is his castle’

·5-min read
Robert Hooper used a forklift to remove the Vauxhall Corsa from his land - Crown Prosecution Service/PA Wire
Robert Hooper used a forklift to remove the Vauxhall Corsa from his land - Crown Prosecution Service/PA Wire

A farmer who wrecked a car parked on his land with a tractor has been cleared of criminal damage after he successfully used the 400-year-old legal principle that “an Englishman’s home is his castle”.

Robert Hooper, 57, became an internet sensation in June last year, when a video of him using the spikes on his telehandler to flip a £16,000 Vauxhall Corsa went viral on social media.

The hill farmer from Upper Teesdale said he had been forced to take action after he came under attack from a "strutting and agitated" shirtless youth, who had refused to move the car from his land.

Mr Hooper said he did not call police because he had been burgled eight times and found they were often slow to respond.

He went on trial at Durham Crown Court after being charged with dangerous driving and criminal damage.

But he was acquitted of all charges after telling the jury: “An Englishman's home is his castle and my castle starts at that front gate."

The incident was filmed and shared widely on social media - Crown Prosecution Service/PA Wire
The incident was filmed and shared widely on social media - Crown Prosecution Service/PA Wire

Michael Rawlinson, his barrister, told the court that the origins of the phrase could be traced back to 1604, when Sir Edward Coke was the attorney general of England.

"This whole case is about an Englishman's home being his castle and his right to lawful self-defence of himself and his property," explained Mr Rawlinson.

In an early 17th century ruling, known as Semayne's case, Sir Edward stated: “The house of every one is to him as his castle and fortress as well for defence against injury and violence, as for his repose.

"If theeves [sic] come to a man’s house to rob him, or murder, and the owner or his servants kill any of the theeves in defence of himself and his house, it is no felony, and he shall lose nothing."

The case against Mr Hooper also became a town versus country debate, with the farmer and his neighbours railing against people who had used their isolated, rural community as a playground during lockdown.

The court heard how Elliott Johnson and Charlie Burn, his passenger, had parked the Vauxhall Corsa on Mr Hooper's land when the vehicle suffered a double blow-out. They were making their way home to Tyneside after spending the day at Low Force waterfall with five friends.

Charlie Burns, left, and Elliot Johnson, right, arriving at Durham Crown Court during the trial - Richard Rayner
Charlie Burns, left, and Elliot Johnson, right, arriving at Durham Crown Court during the trial - Richard Rayner

Mr Hooper, who had been sillaging and bailing, drove down to speak to the driver to explain the car was blocking access to his field.

He told the court: "I said: 'Now then lads, can we have this car moved, I need to be in and out.'

"Instantly, Burns was right in my face. Throughout Covid we'd been two metres from people and here he was five inches from my nose. He was on edge and agitated and full of himself.

"I asked him politely again: 'Can we have this car moved?' and he said: 'I'm not f—--g moving this car.

“With that he punched me in the face, which rather shocked me. I said I was only asking him to move the car. "

Fearful that they might have weapons, Mr Hooper said he then climbed into his telehandler and, using the forks, picked up the back of the car and pushed it onto the road.

However, the car clipped a post of the farm gate and flipped over, causing massive damage.

A video of the incident was uploaded to social media and quickly went viral.

Mr Hooper said he and his neighbours in Upper Teesdale had been plagued by anti-social behaviour during lockdown, with an influx of tourists.

He said: “There has been anti-social behaviour, drug-taking, people lighting fires, knocking walls down and blocking the roads with parking, causing a threat to people as well."

Jacky Meeson, his neighbour, who was also called to give evidence, said: “Our area became very popular because of the rivers and countryside and hordes of people came out who were not used to being in the countryside but wanted some freedom.

"With that came a lack of respect for the countryside and the people who live there. There was a general feeling of being invaded by something we were not used to."

Mr Hooper denied dangerous driving and criminal damage and argued that he had been acting in self-defence.

Surrounded by a dozen of his friends and neighbours, Mr Hooper hugged Karen Henderson, his partner of six years, as the verdict was delivered.

Speaking outside court, Ms Henderson said: “The support of his local community and also people from afar has kept him going through these last eight months of hell, which have been terrible.

"The whole thing has been such an ordeal for him, he's not someone who likes to be the centre of attention so this has been difficult.

"It's been wonderful to see so many people from the Dales come to support him, that really means a lot."

Robert Hooper with Karen Henderson, his partner, outside court - Richard Rayner
Robert Hooper with Karen Henderson, his partner, outside court - Richard Rayner

William Wearmouth, a 66-year-old farmer who was also one of those who made the journey to court from Upper Teesdale, said: “Robert Hooper is a decent, honest man, the hardest working man in the Dale and the jury got it right.

"He did nothing wrong, he was under attack and he did what he had to do to protect himself and his property.

"Since lockdown, the Dale has been deluged by people who visit and don't really understand the country.

"We all understood what he went through because we all saw the way people, young people especially, were behaving and causing disruption to everyone's lives.”

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