Pensioner fires air rifle near boy, 13, getting his football back

An angry pensioner twice shot an air rifle near a boy after he climbed over his fence to get his football back.

Allan Corlett, 75, shouted and started firing when he saw the 13-year-old in his back garden in Formby.

The grandad said he had just woken up and thought it was an "intruder", who looked like a "big person".

But the victim was in fact the son of his next door neighbour, Kevin Kearley, with whom he has a long running feud.

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A top judge today branded Corlett's actions "outrageous", after hearing how the boy and his little sister, aged four, were left too scared to play in their own garden.

But the retired businessman walked free from Liverpool Crown Court – hiding his face and being whisked away in a BMW – after insisting he wasn't aiming to hit the boy.

Allan Corlett, 75, of Park Road, Formby, admitted possessing a firearm with intent to cause fear of violence

Kenneth Grant, prosecuting, said the neighbouring families in Park Road had initially got along.

He said: "It would appear that unfortunately the relationship soured because of a dispute over some trees – some leylandii being too high and blocking out, it was claimed by Mr Corlett, his 'right of light'."

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Mr Grant said both parties had previously called the police on each other on numerous occasions, but no action was taken.

He said the boy was playing on a trampoline when he noticed the ball in Corlett's garden on May 21, 2019.

The victim said he thought it had been kicked over a few days earlier and that the OAP wouldn't kick it back.

Kenneth Grant, prosecuting, said he decided to jump over the fence to retrieve it, but heard Corlett shout: "You're on camera."

The boy described Corlett holding what he thought was a paintball gun, with a scope sight, which the OAP looked through, before taking a shot.

The victim, who was in some bushes, said he saw Corlett reloading the weapon, so jumped back over the fence.

Mr Kearley told police his daughter told him what was happening, then he heard a shot, which sounded like a gun.

He saw his "shocked and scared" son scrambling over the fence and heard Corlett shouting: "You're on camera."

Police were called and armed officers attended the OAP's house, but they did not take any action against him.

Mr Grants said the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) later decided to charge him, adding: "A firearm, even if it was only a weapon of medium power, was discharged near to the complainant."

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Corlett attended a voluntary interview and admitted firing the gun, but not specifically at the boy.

He said he had come back from a funeral for a close friend and gone to sleep in a back bedroom, then was woken by a noise, at around 9pm.

He said he saw an "intruder" – a "big person" who he described as a "chap" – running away from his kitchen windows.

Corlett accepted he was "worked up" and grabbed his Ratcatcher gun – which he bought to shoot rats that plagued his garden – and yelled: "I've got a gun and you're being filmed."

He said he fired the gun at a spot about 8-10m away from the intruder, then a second shot, to "frighten him".

Corlett denied possessing a firearm with intent to cause fear of violence and was set to stand trial.

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He later admitted the offence on a basis which Mr Grant said was "very carefully considered" by the CPS.

Corlett said he hadn't recognised the boy and when he saw an intruder, his instinct was "to fight fire with fire".

He said he checked the gun was loaded by firing it close to his own feet, shouted for the intruder to get out of his garden, then twice fired it towards the back of his garden, but specifically not towards the person.

Corlett said he only realised it was his neighbour's son afterwards and now accepted he should have called police.

Mr Grant said this basis of plea was accepted following discussions with police and Mr Kearley, having regard to the coronavirus crisis and the age of Corlett and the boy.

Corlett has one previous conviction for drink driving 25 years ago.

Michael O'Brien, defending, said both sides had previously contacted the police, but added: "I don't think this is the right forum to air those disputes."

Judge Andrew Menary, QC, said: "Aren't they irrelevant? Your client is not saying he targeted this young man because he came from next door – quite the opposite."

Mr O'Brien agreed and the judge added: "If it were relevant, it would make the matter significantly more serious."

The lawyer said Corlett was proud of running a successful painting and decorating business in Formby for more than 40 years – at times employing up to 10 people.

Mr O'Brien said he was now in poor health and had two knee replacements, described himself as "riddled with arthritis", and had an aortic valve in his heart replaced.

He said: "Something the defendant wants it to be known is he's very sorry for his actions on that day – he not only regrets his actions, he's remorseful for them."

Allan Corlett, 75, hid his face as he left court then got into a waiting BMW

Mr O'Brien urged the judge to spare Corlett jail and asked that if he was given a home curfew, it was not electronically tagged.

He said: "He feels the idea of having a tag around his ankle is something that would humiliate him."

Judge Menary said the "very unfortunate incident" came "sadly" after a history of disagreements.

He said: "I've no doubt that both sides will feel that they have legitimate grievances, because of the alleged behaviour of the other.

"Who is to blame for this, whether there is blame on both sides, is not a matter for me to determine today, and whether that feud has anything at all to do with this offence, I do not know.

"But if it did have anything to do with the offence, then clearly it would make your actions on that day very much more serious, because it would suggest a motive for deliberate targeting."

Allan Corlett left court in a BMW which drove onto Derby Square

Judge Menary said the victim had simply wanted to retrieve the football.

He said: "He decided – like lots of young boys do – to jump over into your garden to get his ball back.

"It's what teenage boys have been doing ever since they started playing with footballs in back gardens.

"He wasn't causing any harm or any particular nuisance."

He said Corlett claimed he didn't recognise the boy but shot at least twice "in order to frighten" – firing not directly at him, but "generally in that direction".

Judge Menary said even accepting that point, why the OAP didn't just call the police was "difficult to understand".

He said: "This was outrageous behaviour, wholly unwarranted, even on your own basis.

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"You discharged an air weapon in a way that was designed deliberately to frighten someone and that someone happened to be a 13-year-old boy."

Judge Menary said he accepted Corlett's basis of plea that he didn't know it was a boy, but if he had known, he would be at real risk of being of jail.

He said the pensioner was of "positive good character" but he and others had to understand householders could not fire any type of gun at an intruder in these circumstances to "make them fear they might be shot if they don't leave the premises".

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He said: "I'm sure there have been many times since when you have reflected on your actions that you have thought 'what on earth was I doing?'"

Judge Menary handed him 20 weeks in prison, suspended for 12 months, and imposed a two-year restraining order to protect the boy.