An animal rights enthusiast who piloted a gyrocopter that killed a hunt supporter has spoken of his fear of reprisals following his acquittal for manslaughter.
The blade of Bryan Griffiths’ gyrocopter struck and killed Warwickshire Hunt member Trevor Morse on March 9 last year at Long Marston airfield.
Mr Griffiths, 55, was cleared of manslaughter by gross negligence at Birmingham Crown Court on Wednesday.
But he is now worried about reprisal attacks by hunt supporters who, he said, may feel he has not been made to pay for Mr Morse’s death.
He said: “If I had gone to prison I might have been safer because if these people felt I had received some punishment for what happened they might have let it drop.
“I would not put it past them to take it upon themselves to seek a bit of payback.
“If you go up against some of these people it can turn nasty.”
Mr Griffiths installed CCTV at his home in Bedworth, Warwickshire, a while ago and is on a police list of priority callers.
If he sees an unfamiliar car outside his house, he takes down the registration number.
He also has metal railings running along the side of his property and has asked a neighbour with CCTV to “keep an eye on stuff”.
He fears for the safety of his wife, Dawn Griffiths, 53, as well, he said, and was particularly worried when he was incarcerated at HMP Hewell for seven weeks following his arrest and she was on her own at home.
“Ever since I started monitoring these people I was aware how they could be,” he said.
“I know that my activities were making them particularly upset. I wouldn’t say everyone in every hunt is a thug but every hunt has its element of thuggery.
“They don’t like being watched and they’ll do anything they can to try to stop people watching them.”
But Mr Morse’s death will stay with him for the rest of his life, he added.
“A man died and that’s not going to be something you forget very quickly.
“At Christmas the thought crossed my mind that this was going to be his partner’s first Christmas without him.”
A two-week trial heard that Mr Morse’s head was cleaved “from top to bottom” by the rear rotor of the gyrocopter as he tried to stop it from taking off.
The jury heard that the 48-year-old was killed instantly when he refused to move out of the way as Mr Griffiths, who had been monitoring the Warwickshire Hunt from the air, drove towards him.
It was claimed in court that Mr Griffiths believed he had been shot at from the ground and feared a gang was on the way to attack him.
Mr Griffiths described feeling “numb” when he saw Mr Morse on the ground and realised he was dead.
“I couldn’t believe what had happened,” he said. “The last 12 months have probably been the most traumatic of my life.
“Obviously it’s been totally traumatic for Trevor Morse’s family as well. He and I disagreed on fox-hunting but somebody dying is a different thing altogether.”
It is too early for him to say whether he will continue to monitor hunts, he said.
His hunt-monitoring future will partly depend on whether the hunting ban is repealed under a Conservative government.
Nor does he know yet whether he will be able to continue to fly his gyrocopter.
Although he would be “really disappointed” not to, he is awaiting interviews with the Civil Aviation Authority and his insurance company, who may have other ideas.
“I spent a lot of time and money learning to fly and I love it,” he said. “I go every time the sun is shining, not just to monitor hunts.”
The hunt on March 9 last year was the fifth he had monitored since buying the aircraft in summer 2008.
Mr Griffiths, a self-employed heating engineer, also spoke of the relief he felt when the jury acquitted him after seven and a half hours of deliberations.
“I always felt I was innocent but with a jury you just don’t know,” he said. “On Wednesday I had a bag packed in case they did cart me off.
“I was fully prepared for the jury to come back with a different decision.”
He has received a lot of support from sympathetic members of the public since he was charged, he added.
“When I was in prison I had more than 100 letters of support from people,” he said. “I also had one letter from someone in California calling me a murdering thug.”
Sam Butler, a Warwickshire Hunt master, said: “At no stage has anyone in the Warwickshire Hunt ever discussed using any form of physical action against hunt monitors.”
He described Mr Morse as “one of the most gentle men” he had ever met and said the Hunt was “devastated and very upset” by his loss.
He added: “It was Mr Griffiths who was on trial, not Trevor Morse or hunting.”