Cambridgeshire man jailed after killing best friend to test out what he mistakenly believed was a bullet-proof vest

Ian Catley.

Ian Catley. - Credit: Archant

A man is dead and his close friend faces seven years’ jail because of “stupidity”, “recklessness” and a blunder over a vest, a court has heard.

Philip Harper.

Philip Harper. - Credit: Archant

Lorry driver Ian Catley fired a shotgun at his friend Philip Harper in a farmer’s field near Melbourn, Cambridgeshire, on June 29 last year - because his mate had asked him to help him test out what he mistakenly believed was a bullet-proof vest.

But the plastic-lined garment instead funnelled the shotgun spray into the centre of Mr Harper’s chest, severing an artery, and the 46-year-old died almost instantly.

The Meldreth man’s killer initially told police he’d been aiming at a pigeon, but London’s Southwark Crown Court heard he quickly admitted that he had agreed to shoot his friend at close-range.

Catley, 40, of Melbourn, pleaded guilty to manslaughter last November.

You may also want to watch:

“You shot Mr Harper at a distance of less than 20 feet, causing him catastrophic injuries and immediate death,” Judge Jeffrey Pegden QC told Catley at sentencing. “You then, straight away, took him to hospital but tragically, nothing could be done to save his life.”

Catley stared straight ahead in the dock as the sentence came down, while his elderly mother appeared to fight back tears in the public gallery.

Most Read

“Your remorse is complete and genuine,” the judge said. “You recognise the magnitude of your actions and I have no doubt that the effects of killing your good friend will last with you for the rest of your life.”

The judge added that the victim seemed to have been an enthusiastic participant in the tragic shooting, saying: “For reasons which will never be known, Mr Harper was extremely eager to test the effectiveness of that vest whilst he wore it.”

But “the risk of death or serious injury to Mr Harper must in my judgment have been absolutely obvious”, he said, and Catley had “manifestly breached” the obligations and duties that came with holding a gun licence.

Defence barrister Mark McDonald had argued that the killing was the result of a reckless act to which the “keen” Mr Harper had nevertheless consented.

The dead man had visited a military surplus store the previous day and was “very keen” to test the effectiveness of his new kit, which was described by prosecutor Martin Mulgrew as a “protective” vest.

The court heard that after leaving Rugby Trading International Ltd with his new vest, Mr Harper had asked a friend - James Hill - to help him test it out, but that Mr Hill had flatly refused.

“(Mr Harper) was very proud of it. He’d gone to the pub that evening wearing that vest and indeed a Swat cap,” Mr McDonald said.

Mr Harper had a drink or two and asked around, Mr McDonald said, and his client fatefully agreed.

He said Catley had nightmares and woke each morning remembering what he had done.

“He’s lost his friend, a close friend, and he did it because of his own stupidity and his recklessness,” Mr McDonald said.

Catley will serve up to half his seven-year sentence, and the judge ordered that his gun be forfeited and destroyed.

Detective Inspector Ian Simmons, of Cambridgeshire Police, said: “This is a particularly sad case, where a foolish incident ended in tragedy.

“These second-hand protective vests should not be relied on whatsoever to protect you from gunshot and I’m urging people to take this as a warning.

“Our deepest sympathies are with Mr Harper’s family and friends at this time.”

Become a Supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years. Our industry faces testing times, which is why we're asking for your support. Every contribution will help us continue to produce local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Become a Supporter