Pensioner Reuben Gregory carried out 'an unlawful killing' when he shot a burglar trying to break into his caravan home a coroner ruled on Friday.

Assistant Berkshire coroner Ian Wade rejected the 73-year-old pensioner's assertion that he was acting in self-defence and found that the death was intruder Wayne Digby, 48, was manslaughter.

The shock verdict is expected to be studied by senior detectives who followed the Crown Prosecution Service's decision not to charge Mr Gregory with murder but instead to charge him with possession of a shotgun without a licence.

The pensioner who had originally been arrested on suspicion of murder, has now been freed.

White-haired Mr Gregory killed the intruder with his double-barrelled shotgun when he feared his caravan home in a field off the busy A4 Colnbrook bypass was under siege from four or five people intent on killing him and his sister, the coroner had earlier heard.

When he found Wayne Digby's body, he called 999 and told the operator: "They have been trying to break into my caravan and I've had to kill someone."

Mr Gregory told an inquest that he shot Mr Digby, a former furniture removals man on June 12, 2017 by mistake and meant to scare off what he thought was several burglars trying to gain entry to the woodland caravan.

In a verdict delivered on Friday after a two-day hearing, the coroner said he found Mr Gregory's evidence 'disingenuous' and believed he knew Mr Digby was there when he fired the lethal shot.

Mr Wade said: "For a number of reasons, I have concluded that the account of Reuben Gregory is unreliable. In vital respects it is implausible but Mr Gregory appears nevertheless to believe his words.

"At best I find he has persuaded himself that his explanation of decisions and events which he wishes were true have become true. In a number of important aspects Reuben Gregory's evidence was disingenuous."

The inquest heard how Mr Gregory had awoken to the sound of men trying to rip his caravan door apart. He had grabbed his shotgun with what he said was the intention of scaring the intruders away by firing at the ground.

Me Gregory's sister, now calling herself Charlotte Hunter-Smith, 61, was also in the caravan on the night of the incident and told police she was screaming at the burglars, asking them to leave the caravan and to "go away and leave us alone."

She told officers: "They would have got in. I dread to think what they would have done."

Mr Wade acknowledged Mr Gregory's caravan was 'the target of unlawful or burglarous activity. Their actions were violent, frightening, sinister, unexplained and in any view wicked. However, their actions had not been physically injurious to the occupants of the caravan. They were likely to, intended to, and did cause alarm and fear.

"Mr Gregory acted in defence of himself and his sister and his home. But it must be considered in the light of the law of self-defence. A house holder will only be able to avail himself of the defence if the degree of force he used was reasonable in the circumstances as he believed them to be.

"I conclude that his use of force in the circumstances was grossly disproportionate and therefore self-defence does not apply. It seems to me that what Reuben Gregory did was a deliberate act, an unlawful act - manslaughter."

Police investigators found Mr Digby got on his bicycle despite his wound and peddled around 150 yards down the drive before he succumbed to his catastrophic injury and collapsed.

He was abandoned by his accomplice in the burglary, Anthony Hearn, now 49 years and serving a 10-year sentence for aggravated burglary, who peddled his own bike away to a nearby garage and called a friend.

Following the shooting Mr Gregory and his sister, armed with a kitchen knife, left the caravan to find a way to contact the police.

They managed to wake a cleaner at the nearby Imperial Coaches site and used her phone to call police at 3.23am, when Mr Gregory told a 999 call operator: "I've just shot and killed someone. They have been trying to break into my caravan and I've had to kill someone."

Armed police with machine guns, shields and tasers descended on the woodland around Mr Gregory's caravan and found Mr Digby's corpse on its back, laying motionless.

Officers arrested Mr Gregory at gunpoint and he told them: "I'm the one that done it mate. I had been attacked at the caravan."

The pensioner, whose family had lived for over 60 years on the land his caravan occupies in its field was arrested on suspicion of murder, but the charges were later dropped.

He was later jailed for 10 months on December 11,2017 after admitting illegally owning a 1972 12-gauge Sable double-barrelled side-by side shotgun without a licence, and is now a free man.

Mr Gregory thought he was targeted because a rumour had escalated in the local area which had led people to believe he and his sister were millionaires.

Detectives discovered Mr Gregory's caravan actually contained family heirlooms like valuable jewellery and antiques, collectable coins, war medals, Premium Bonds and £1,300 in cash stored in boxes, purses, loose in drawers and in vehicles parked around the caravan.

Detective Constable Alex Boyce said the siblings were informed of this but 'didn't have the desire or the energy to go about selling them even in light of us telling them what their expected value was'.

A spokesman for Thames Valley Police said: "Thames Valley Police acknowledges the conclusion of the coroner following the inquest of Wayne Digby. Specially-trained family liaison officers have been providing support to Mr Digby’s family throughout this complex case and will remain in contact with them."