A pigeon fancier who shot dead his neighbour after blaming her for a fire which killed 50 of his birds has been jailed for eight years.

Michael Stockton, who had been on a Boxing Day drinking binge, used a legally-held shotgun to blast his way into Susan Rondel's home and shoot her through the heart at point blank range.

He sobbed uncontrollably in the dock at Birmingham Crown Court yesterday after a jury acquitted him of murder but found him guilty of manslaughter.

The 44-year-old's legal team had argued that the killing in Audley, Stafford-shire, followed provocation from Mrs Rondel, who he suspected of burning down his pigeon loft six months earlier, and from his partner, Gayle Bagguley.

Relatives of the victim, who died instantly after a single shot fired from less than three feet pierced her breastbone, heart, aorta and spine, criticised the sentence as too lenient.

Three men, including Mrs Rondel's son Philip, left court in disgust as soon as the sentence was announced and one shouted "It stinks" towards Judge John Saunders QC.

Detectives later confirmed that the 48-year-old's family were angry with the punishment meted out to Stockton, who was found guilty of manslaughter by reason of provocation.

Stockton's six-day trial was told he gunned down Mrs Rondel in the first minutes of December 27 last year after loading three cartridges into the Beretta shotgun.

The father-of-two, of Vernon Avenue, told the jury he had no recollection of shooting Mrs Rondel, who had accused him of poisoning her cat.

But, the jury heard, he told a 999 operator that he had "lost the plot" and shot Mrs Rondel, adding: "She's dead and I've done wrong - it just had to be done."

Jailing Stockton, Judge Saunders, the Recorder of Birmingham, said the defendant had taken Mrs Rondel's life in the most violent possible way minutes after arguing with his partner.

The judge told him: "Whatever may or may not have happened between the two of you in the past, nothing that had happened in any way justifies what you did.

"The jury have accepted that what happened in the past, coupled with the argument that you had on that night, may have amounted to provocation. I deal with you on the basis that you lost your self-control that night and I accept that the events of the previous six months had weighed heavily upon you."

Stockton, who owned at least six legally-held firearms, had abused and breached the trust placed in him by the authorities in using one of the weapons to commit the killing, the judge added.

The jury was told that Stockton, a keen clay pigeon shooter, had spent the afternoon and evening of Boxing Day drinking.

He told the jury he was "merry" rather than drunk on December 26 and that he could not remember taking the shotgun from its cabinet at his home or loading it.

Following the case, the family of Mrs Rondel, who was awaiting trial on drugs charges at the time of her death, issued a statement.

It read: "It has been a very difficult time for us as a family and we are still trying to come to terms with our loss.

"Susan was a unique character, full of life, energy and love for all of her family.

"She was a devoted mother, grandmother and sister and her premature death has left a void in our lives that will never be filled.

"We are unable to comprehend the reasons that drove Michael Stockton to take away Susan's life in such a brutal and callous manner."

Detective Inspector Guy Titchener, of Staffordshire Police's Major Investigation Department, said the circumstances were tragic. "A sentence of eight years I feel is adequate and I am satisfied with that sentence," he said.