Businessman Martin Hawcroft found dead

Well-known horse breeder and businessman Martin Hawcroft has been found dead in a mysterious shooting incident at his Upper Hunter stud.

Detectives are investigating whether the 53-year-old may have been accidentally shot by his own gun as he climbed through a barbed wire fence.

Byerley Stud manager Michelle Harris found her boss’s body caught up in the fence surrounding a paddock on the Sandy Hollow property about 10am yesterday.

He had a fatal gunshot wound to the stomach. A rifle was nearby.

Mr Hawcroft, who is also managing director of the family-owned Noahs On The Beach hotel overlooking Newcastle Beach, had been last seen on Sunday.

Hunter Valley crime manager Detective Inspector Trent King said Mr Hawcroft’s death was not being treated as suspicious or as a suicide.

But detectives would await autopsy results and statements from witnesses before formally ruling out any cause. A report will be prepared for the Coroner.

Newcastle Jockey Club racing manager John Curtis said Mr Hawcroft was a long-term member and supporter of racing.

‘‘It’s a tragedy,’’ Mr Curtis said.

‘‘He was a great businessman and was a sponsor and member of the NJC for many years.’’

Prominent trainer Steve Hodge said he had seen Mr Hawcroft on the weekend.

‘‘I was up at his stud on Saturday. We spell a few horses there and we lease a few horses off Martin for our syndicate,’’ Mr Hodge said.

‘‘He has been nothing but a really good bloke in everything he has helped us in.’’

Police will investigate whether the incident occurred late on Sunday.

Mr Hawcroft’s family travelled from Newcastle to the Bylong Valley Way road property, about 40kilometres west of Muswellbrook, when they heard of the discovery.

The 400-hectare Byerley Stud is one of the older, established studs in the Hunter Valley and runs along the Goulburn River.

Stallion Nothin’ Leica Dane once stood at the stud before he was retired in 1998.

The stud was placed on the market two years ago by Mr Hawcroft, who bought the property in 1991, but it had not been sold.

Byerley Stud was described as being ‘‘in a unique position because of its ability to obtain income streams from all facets of horse husbandry, including standing stallions through to raising excellent yearlings, growing tonnes of lucerne and raising good cattle’’.

The autopsy could be performed in Newcastle as early as this morning.

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