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 35.

    Nice easy headline. Next thing will be private security firms to do the enforcing for you - well, not you, the average person, but you, the mega rich mansion owner (no mansion tax for you . . ). Tories preparing for the revolution . . . . .

  • rate this

    Comment number 34.

    There will still be the need for the Police to properly investigate the incident, the need to arrest suspected householders, and the need to ensure that a real burglary was taking place. Unnecessary Law which avoids dealing with Burglary. Better a Law to ensure ALL Burglars go to jail for a long time!

  • rate this

    Comment number 33.

    We have to have the right to defend our homes.

    We can trust in the justice system only to let the burglars off with the lightest of sentences.

    We can trust in the Police to do absolutely nothing very useful at all.

    3 Cheers for British Justice.

  • rate this

    Comment number 32.

    The Law does need clarifying on this - do believe that once you force entry to someone's property you forfeit all legal rights.
    I thought squatting was also a criminal offence now? - so how come No10 & 11 is occupied in Downing St by people no one allowed in there? So it's ok to be self-annointed then to titles and privileges majority did not vote for?

  • rate this

    Comment number 31.

    Would any force be 'reasonable in the circumstances' if it were used by a citizen protecting himself against institutional 'burglars' from the financial sector?

  • rate this

    Comment number 30.

    Did anyone see the front cover of The Sun this morning ? Pretty disgusting headline about how it will be legal to "batter a burglar".

    Of course people should be able to defend their homes, but to revel in it and gloat about it looks pretty distasteful to me.

  • rate this

    Comment number 29.

    nothing more than a headline grab by the Tories (presumably they haven't got much to say at the moment?) We've always had the right to defend ourselves and others if attached, in or out of our home.
    This won't make an iota of difference, but will get the desired headline in the Daily Mail.

  • rate this

    Comment number 28.

    Finally. A tougher law being introduced. Maybe they'll finally give life sentences to murderers and paedophiles and adequate sentences for more crimes.

  • rate this

    Comment number 27.

    A bit of common sense by the householder and police is what's required.

    @ 5 [burglars] 'will leave on a stretcher' ... that kind of stupid bravado will lead to many more householders leaving on stretchers as burglars start going prepared for action.

    What we don't want is an escalation on either side, because most people can't defend themselves!

    What about demanding 'real' prison sentences...

  • rate this

    Comment number 26.

    we defend our country from invading forces, so i will be defending my property from invading scum bags, the property owner is the victim and should without questionable doubt be allowed to defend said property/family without question

  • rate this

    Comment number 25.

    A novel idea - make life worth living and then perhaps we won't have as much crime! Having said that, I cannot know to what lengths I would go to protect my family. I just hope I never find myself in that situation.

  • rate this

    Comment number 24.

    An American friend of mine when we were discussing this very topic informed me that his home area was quite safe.
    He said "if you are a criminal, the fact that if you break into my home you are likely to be shot with a .45 (if its the man of the house) or a .38 (if its the lady of the house), tends to deter.
    Criminals KNOW that before they attempt burglary in this area.
    So they (mainly) don`t!

  • rate this

    Comment number 23.

    1. The householder should be able to assume the burglar has a weapon (bat, knife, screwdriver etc) and use force appropriate to that
    2. The householder should not be arrested first and then investigated. Investigate first and then arrest if needed.
    3. The householder should not be put on police bail until after any investigation.
    4. The burglar should be barred from suing the householder.

  • rate this

    Comment number 22.

    Tories in 'half-sensible idea' shocker.

    I think I might need a lie down.

  • rate this

    Comment number 21.

    For those who say it will lead to better armed burglars as in the USA: according to a 2004 study by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, looking at the period from 1981 to 1999, the United States had a lower residential burglary rate than Scotland, England, Canada, the Netherlands, and Australia.

  • rate this

    Comment number 20.

    ...bringing England and Wales into line with Scotland where they've always had the right to defend their property...

  • Comment number 19.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 18.

    "all community sentences should have a punitive element".

    Far too many undergoing 'community sentences' spend their time sitting out the back of a charity shop having a fag or drinking tea. The shops don't trust them to use the till or serve customers.

    There is plenty of physical work they could be doing - cleaning up graffiti or clearing over grown footpaths.

  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    The existing law is that you can use force reasonable to the threat as you see it at the time, not in hindsight. i.e. If you THINK an intruder is going to kill you then you can kill them even if it turns out later that they were no threat. Since you don't know who the intruder is you had better assume they are going to kill you for your own safety.

    No new law is needed.

  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    Pray tell, Justice Secretary Chris Grayling, what is to be defined as"grossly disproportionate" force?

    If I find a masked man has broken into my home at 2 am, and he is armed with a 2' long crowbar, or a sharpened screwdriver, or a 12" carving knife, would I have used "grossly disproportionate" force when splitting his skull open with a baseball bat?

    I think a jury would agree with my actions.


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