Farmer's Release Stokes British Crime Debate

LONDON -- A reclusive British farmer whose shotgun killing of a teenage burglar provoked a national debate about victims' rights was freed from jail Monday.

With fear of violence rising fast in Britain, supporters of Tony Martin said he should never have been sent to prison. They hail him as a self-defense hero in a land where an Englishman's home is his castle.

Martin, 58, served two-thirds of a five-year sentence for manslaughter after killing 16-year-old burglar Fred Barras and wounding 33-year-old Brendon Fearon when they broke into the aptly named Bleak House, his virtually derelict farmhouse in Norfolk, eastern England.

The crime and punishment debate was fueled further when Fearon was released last Friday after serving less than a third of an 18-month term for drug dealing.

The farmer, whose original conviction for murder was reduced to manslaughter on appeal, now finds himself at the forefront of a crusade to put the rights of homeowners at the top of the political agenda.

In a blunt message to the government that came to power six years ago on the slogan "Tough on Crime, Tough on the Causes of Crime," Martin said: "There is a lack of law and order, even if the government doesn't accept it, in this country."

Martin, who suffered 30 burglaries before taking the law into his own hands with fatal consequences, said: "Look, I don't agree with shooting people. When you resort to using a gun, you are desperate."

Any chance Martin had of returning to a quiet life pruning his apple trees has vanished.

He was moved from prison last week and put into police custody before his formal release Monday to avoid a media circus outside the jail.

Television crews camped around Bleak House, which now has a portable police station outside to guard against revenge attacks. Martin's rundown farmhouse now ironically ranks as the best guarded home in Britain.

But there was no sign of Martin at his farmhouse Monday and no indication that he would be returning home until the glare of the media spotlight dims.

A prison service spokesman would only say: "He is no longer in prison service custody. He is a free man."