HUNTER Anthony Burns who shot a leading wildlife expert after mistaking his night-vision binoculars for a fox's eyes has been cleared of assault.

Anthony Burns, 52, from Blacksmiths Lane, Prestwood, was out lamping for foxes late one night in April last year when he shot journalist Trevor Lawson.

Mr Lawson, 37, had been looking for barn owls along a footpath through farmland near Hyde Heath when he was shot in the chest with a hunting bullet designed to disintegrate inside the body of an animal to kill it more effectively.

Although there was no suggestion Mr Burns shot Mr Lawson deliberately, prosecutor Neil Moore argued unsuccessfully that he had acted recklessly.

But the jury believed Mr Burns when he said he had been "100 per cent sure" that he had been shooting a fox.

The jury of seven men and five women took just under two hours of deliberation on Thursday to unanimously clear him of causing grievous bodily harm.

Mr Burns hugged family members, who were weeping for joy, after the verdict was read out.

Solicitor Stephen Betts said afterwards: "He's just very grateful. It was a tragic accident.'' After the acquittal at Aylesbury Crown Court, Mr Lawson said: "The verdict makes no difference to me in the sense that the damage is already done and it is massive damage.

If I put my finger in the hole in my ribcage where my ribs used to be, I can feel the blood pumping through my aorta."

Mr Lawson spent two days in intensive care, lost a lung and still has part of the bullet under his skin.

Mr Burns had two decades of shooting experience including lamping a form of night hunting using a red filtered light which is difficult for the fox to see without incident.

On the night of the accident Mr Burns and two other men had already shot one fox when they decided to make one last visit to a field where one had earlier got away.

The lamp quickly picked up a fox and the court heard that Mr Burns had seen the whole animal three times before picking up a "massive set of eyes".

Mr Burns pulled the trigger but to his horror heard Mr Lawson screaming in agony.

He quickly went to Mr Lawson's aid and found him lying on the ground beside a track while one of his companions called an ambulance.