Conservative conference: Force against burglars to be allowed


David Cameron: "If a burglar comes into your home, people aren't sure about what they are allowed to do"

Householders who react with force when confronted by burglars are to get more legal protection, Justice Secretary Chris Grayling has said.

"Grossly disproportionate" force will still be against the law in England and Wales, but the bar will be higher than the current "proportionate" force test.

But opponents of such changes argue they will encourage vigilantism.

Mr Grayling also said people who commit the most serious crimes more than once would face automatic life sentences.

BBC political editor Nick Robinson said the Conservatives, under Mr Cameron's leadership, had gone from a party promising to "hug a hoodie" to one willing to allow the public to "bash a burglar".

Mr Grayling's pledge on tackling burglars follows two particularly high-profile cases, which have divided public opinion over whether the law needs to change.

In 1999, Norfolk farmer Tony Martin shot dead an intruder in his home. He was jailed for life for murder but appealed and had the verdict reduced to manslaughter, serving three years in jail.

In 2008, Buckinghamshire businessman Munir Hussain was jailed for 30 months after chasing and attacking with a cricket bat one of three intruders who had tied up his family. The intruder, Walid Saleem, received a lesser sentence than Hussain, who was convicted of grievous bodily harm. This was later reduced on appeal.


But between 1990 and 2005 there were just 11 prosecutions for people tackling intruders in any premises, including seven involving homes.

In England and Wales, anyone can use "reasonable" force to protect themselves or others, or to carry out an arrest or to prevent crime. Householders are protected from prosecution as long as they act "honestly and instinctively" in the heat of the moment.


  • In England and Wales, anyone can use "reasonable" force to protect themselves or others
  • Householders can claim they attacked in self-defence if they genuinely believed they were in peril - even if in hindsight they were clearly wrong
  • Juries must distinguish between "reasonable force" and grievous harm

It is still lawful to act in reasonable self-defence, even if the intruder dies as a result. However, prosecution could result from "very excessive and gratuitous force", such as attacking someone who is unconscious.

Mr Grayling wanted to change the law on tackling intruders as soon as possible, he told the Conservative conference, saying it would be included in a crime bill passing through Parliament this autumn.

It will mean someone who is confronted by a burglar and has reason to fear for their safety, or the safety of their family, and in the heat of the moment uses force that is reasonable in the circumstances but in the cold light of day seems disproportionate, they will not be guilty of an offence.

Mr Grayling told the Birmingham conference: "Being confronted by an intruder in your own home is terrifying, and the public should be in no doubt that the law is on their side. That is why I am strengthening the current law.

"Householders who act instinctively and honestly in self-defence are victims of crime and should be treated that way.

"We need to dispel doubts in this area once and for all, and I am very pleased to be today delivering on the pledge that we made in opposition."

Asked ahead of speech to give an example of what would not be allowed, he told the BBC that stabbing to death a burglar who had already been knocked unconscious would still break the law.

Burglary in England and Wales statistics since 2001. Informal research by the CPS suggests that between 1990 and 2005 there were only 11 prosecutions of people who had attacked intruders in houses, commercial premises or private land.

The Metropolitan Police Commissioner Bernard Hogan-Howe told the BBC he agreed that homeowners need better protection than they currently get.

"If we have the law as it is then people complain that it doesn't help the homeowner. And if we higher [sic] the bar, then people complain that it might mean that people go overboard.

"I think, probably, there's an argument at the moment for making sure that that bar gets higher, and that the homeowner has better protection, and the burglar is put more on notice that they're at risk if they choose to burgle someone's home while they're in it," he added.


Speaking to BBC Breakfast, Mr Cameron of the current legal situation over confronting burglars: "This is something that bothers people, and quite frankly it bothers me.

"There has been uncertainty that if a burglar comes into your home, people aren't sure about what they are and are not allowed to do."

Justice Secretary Chris Grayling: "If you lash out the law should be on your side"

He added that the new laws would give homeowners and householders "a certainty that if they ever got into that situation, they could defend their homes, their property, their family, and I think that's a very important sense that people need to have".

Mr Grayling is seen as a more traditional right-winger than his predecessor Ken Clarke, who was moved to another Cabinet job in last month's reshuffle.

But he will use his speech to stress that there is more to him than the "tough" image portrayed by the tabloids.

And he will stress his commitment to a "rehabilitation revolution" to cut re-offending rates, driven by a "payment-by-results" programme involving charities and private firms.

Adam Pemberton, assistant chief executive of Victim Support, said it was important that people "keep themselves safe" if they detect an intruder. Such events were "really quite rare", he added.

The announcement on householders' self-defence comes after a judge, Michael Pert QC, said that being shot by homeowners was simply a chance that burglars took.

Lord Chief Justice, Lord Judge, said last month that burglary should always be treated seriously and stressed that householders have the right to use force "to get rid of the burglar".

He admitted "occasionally it looks as if the householder is the criminal", but added: "Well, the householder is not in a position to exercise calm, cool, judgement. You're not calmly detached, you're probably very cross and you're probably very frightened, a mixture of both."

Lord Judge added that measuring whether force was reasonable or not was not simply "a paper exercise six months later".


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  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    Self defence etc yes - but the existing law is adequate, as shown recently by that couple not being charged for defending themselves.

    BUT, chasing a burglar down the street for half mile and/or tying them up in your home, then beating them repeatedly & senselessly makes you as bad as them.

    More obsfucation from the Govt.....why aren't they concentrating on the economy...???

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    And about time too!

  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    The law already allows you to defend yourself if you believe at the time that you or your family are in serious danger. In the event of you being prosecuted, it is for the crown to prove beyond reasonable doubt that you were not in fear of your life or safety at that time. The law does not need changing. This is just Tory propaganda to deflect people from the real issues of the day.

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    Interesting the taxpayer paid BBC publishes 4 initial comments from the cowardly liberal brigade, whilst every SINGLE survey, by EVERY political party and media outlet has found strong support for the law to be toughened up.
    A floating voter - Tories have my vote now.

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    About time this was clarified, but, where do you draw the line when it comes to protecting your life, property or loved ones? Personally I don't know how far I would go if some scumbag was trying to break into my house. Why don't they just say " if you break into a house and the worst happens and you get badly injured then tough luck" Will it cause an increase in violent home invasions.

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    Never mind .self defense', I really don't have a problem with people beating up intruders whether they feel threatened or not.

    The cricket bat I kept by my bed will now be replaced by a knife. Bring it on crims; I'll be waiting.

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    It's easy - don't break into people's homes and you won't get beaten with a brick, stabbed or shot - simples. It's not hard to understand.

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    @1 and 2

    I agree. I am sick and tired of people defending their home against burglars. "People should not be allowed to defend themesleves against criminals because then criminals will simply arm themselves"- I'll just write that great idea up on my invisible typewriter...

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    So, first you cut the police, then you cut benefits, and then.....

    you let householders take the law into their own hands.


  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    Of course their partners the bleeding heart Lib/Dems will always put the criminal first and the victim second. Great to see those two burglars (who were shot at and injured by a farmer) jailed yesterday.

  • Comment number 5.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    Tooled up burglars vs. Tooled up Households
    Welcome to America!

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    I hope that this time they will do it. The other big issue is why police have to arrest householders after such an incidental. Recently they were hld two days withjout charge. Surely they should invite the householder to co-operate and be interviewed before arresting him or her?

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    all this will lead to is tooled up burglars. more stupid ideas pandering to the new tory tea party element

  • rate this

    Comment number 1.

    Open season on burglars. What could possibly go wrong? It's not like they will start bringing their own weapons to defend themselves or anything like that, because after all that would be criminal.


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