A former master of foxhounds who was cleared of shooting his former lover outside her country home has been jailed for eight months for possessing a firearm without a licence.
Brian Fraser, 63, was found not guilty last month of the attempted murder of Louise Leggatt, 55, and also of causing her grievous bodily harm with intent.
Prosecutors had claimed he shot Mrs Leggatt as she went to tend her horses at Apple Pie Farm in Benenden, Kent, after she rejected his efforts to rekindle their romance following the end of their five-year relationship.
Following a two-week trial, married Fraser, a former joint master of the Ashford Valley Hunt, was found not guilty of shooting his former girlfriend at around 9.30pm on March 15 last year.
But at Maidstone Crown Court today, Fraser, of Shadoxhurst, near Ashford, was jailed after earlier pleading guilty to possessing a firearm without a licence.
Judge Charles Byers said Fraser will serve up to half his jail term and the remainder on licence.
He also imposed a restraining order banning him from contact ‘directly or indirectly’ with Mrs Leggatt or any member of her family.
Jailing Fraser, the judge told him it was ‘the most serious case of its type’ and that the public expects the highest control of firearms and ammunition.
Judge Byers said: ‘The criminal law applies to everybody and the whole point of licensing those who possess firearms is so that the authorities know where those weapons are and that they are being kept responsibly.’
The judge said that, had Fraser applied for a firearms licence, he may well have been granted one because of his background in farming.
‘Instead, you kept that gun under a bale of hay in an open barn where it could have been discovered and used by anyone for any purpose.
‘The offence is aggravated because, when it was discovered, it was found with 40 rounds of ammunition of the correct calibre for that gun.
‘The ammunition was given to you by people rather than you having to go to a gunsmith to purchase it where you would have had to produce a licence to show you were entitled to possess it.’
The judge added: ‘It could have fallen into the hands of children and one can only imagine what could have happened if they chose to experiment with it.’
Judge Byers said that Fraser, of previous good character, continued to lie to police about owning the gun until his DNA was discovered on it.
Fraser initially told police he had not owned a shotgun for 20 years.
When officers disclosed that one was found on his land, he suggested he was being framed.
Later, following the disclosure that his DNA had been found on it, he admitted he did own the gun, telling officers it had been handed down to him by his father.
He said he ‘panicked’ in the initial police interviews because he had been arrested on suspicion of shooting Mrs Leggatt and because he did not have a firearms licence.
But he ‘categorically’ denied being responsible for blasting Mrs Leggatt, from whom he said he had split amicably and still considered a friend.
Mother-of-two Mrs Leggatt – who worked in a veterinary surgery – was shot as she went to do her routine evening checks on her horses in the picturesque Kent village.
She told the court that her dog was barking and seemed unsettled, ‘as if there was something there that he didn’t like’, as she stepped outside from her patio door.
As she shone a torch across the garden and shut the patio door, she was shot once, leaving her peppered with shotgun pellets in her bowel and pelvis.
She screamed that she had been hit and managed to stumble back inside her rented home before crawling to her landline telephone to dial 999.
Mrs Leggatt said: ‘First of all, I heard the sound and then I had a horrendous pain in my leg and hip, and I realised what had happened.’
Her experience of going on shoots and of her two sons’ involvement with clay pigeon shooting led her to believe she had been targeted with a shotgun.
She added: ‘I was absolutely terrified. I had never been so terrified in all my life. I was really, really scared that whoever had done it was going to come back in and I couldn’t get back to lock the door.’
A firearms unit was deployed before paramedics were allowed to reach Mrs Leggatt, who was taken to Pembury Hospital in Tunbridge Wells for surgery.
She told how she met Fraser through hunting circles in the early 2000s.
Mrs Leggatt, who finalised a divorce from her husband, Philip Gorringe, in 2007, allowed Fraser to move into her home in 2006.
Over time their relationship hit difficulties, with disagreements about finances, the lack of time they spent together and Fraser’s long working hours, Mrs Leggatt told the jury.
By 2011, they were sleeping in separate rooms. He moved out of her home in November of that year and later went back to his wife, Nanette.
Following the sentence Detective Sergeant Rebecca Benson, of The Kent and Essex Serious crime Directorate, said: ‘This case reflects an irresponsible approach to firearms ownership.
‘Storing a working shotgun alongside ammunition in an open space where anyone could have got their hands on it is nothing short of reckless.
‘I hate to think of what may have happened if the weapon had been found by children or someone intent on committing a crime.
‘This sentence reflects the seriousness of the offence and will no doubt warn others of the need to licence their guns and store them in a responsible manner.’