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".


More on This Story

Related Stories


This entry is now closed for comments

Jump to comments pagination
  • rate this

    Comment number 55.

    Not that this is going to result in many incidents, the vast bulk of burglaries are carried out in the daytime when the home owners are out. The myth of the house breaker creeping about at night is just that, a myth.

  • rate this

    Comment number 54.

    48. Piestall_Fred
    'I reserve the right to defend my property...'. Rubbish. The equivalence between your DVD player or jewellery and a human life is not just illegal but morally wrong. Unless a burglar directly threatens you with violence, you have no right to kill them no matter what they are stealing. You will still go to prison and rightly so.

    Ever been a victim?

  • rate this

    Comment number 53.

    The existing law allows the use of reasonable force, up to and including killing, proportionate to the threat as you perceive it to be at the time even if it turns out later that there was no threat.

    Do we need any more?

  • rate this

    Comment number 52.

    How about the government not making 16,000 police officers redundant ?

    That way, we might stand more chance of catching burglars, and these new measures will be less necessary.

  • rate this

    Comment number 51.

    Oh so now everyone's talking like they're Arnie in bad mood!?! Most of the people I know who've been burgled would be incapable of defending their property from an intruder(s) and I'm not sure I'd advise it. The intention is right here but the delivery is wrong.

  • rate this

    Comment number 50.

    The problem with the American analogy is that in the US people have been killed when knocking on a door to ask the way. More recently a man shot his own son who was larking about next door. There have to be limits on the amount of force that can be used and the present one is that the householder's response must be proportionate to the perceived threat.

  • rate this

    Comment number 49.

    Does this mean I now don't have to ask a burglar what his intentions are first before deciding whether or not braining him with a hammer is reasonable? Lets hope its not this judge who has to interpret what "grossly disproportionate" means if the burglar in question was killed in someone's house:

    “It takes a huge amount of courage, as far as I can see, for somebody to burgle somebody’s house"

  • rate this

    Comment number 48.

    'I reserve the right to defend my property...'. Rubbish. The equivalence between your DVD player or jewellery and a human life is not just illegal but morally wrong. Unless a burglar directly threatens you with violence, you have no right to kill them no matter what they are stealing. You will still go to prison and rightly so.

  • rate this

    Comment number 47.

    Tooled up burglars? What!? Any excuse to disagree with something isnt it! An answer to that is the victim should be allowed to use force equal to what the offender is using!

    This article is great news!

    Being soft on theives will encourage people to do it, especially in tough times! If burglars fear that the house owner might actually put up a fight they're more likely to decide not to risk it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 46.

    They come over a lot better on Law & Order than on Tax & Welfare.

  • rate this

    Comment number 45.

    When someone is faced with an intruder and they have a family to protect, risk mitigation should be their absolute priority. If at any point risk can be best mitigated by physically harming the intruder then there should be no legal problem with this - You have no idea what the intruder wants and so you should assume the potential risk to be high. Having said that, try calling the police first!

  • rate this

    Comment number 44.

    "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."

    As if people are going to carry out a risk assessment prior to clobbering an intruder. Utter poppycock!
    As far as I am concerned anyone who breaks in leaves any vestige of rights on my property threshold.

  • rate this

    Comment number 43.

    Ok, so I can stab this guy to death and get protected for it?

  • rate this

    Comment number 42.

    This must be to help deal with the extra crimes committed because there is reduced Police numbers

  • rate this

    Comment number 41.

    Criminals play the system to their full advantage and love the fact people are afraid to confront them through fear of being prosecuted by an idiotic system. Hopefully this will make some criminals think twice. You just never know who might have a suitable weapon by their bedside.

  • rate this

    Comment number 40.

    I reserve the right to defend my family, my house, my property against anyone who wishes to take it, with any force required, be it a burglar or politician.

  • rate this

    Comment number 39.

    I see this as a slight glimmer at the end of a very long tunnel this country is in.

  • rate this

    Comment number 38.

    i If someone breaks into my house when my family are in it, i call battering someone around the head with cricket bat reasonable force

  • rate this

    Comment number 37.

    Does this mean I can kill somebody in the street if I’m attacked, I might well be feeling frightened and not very cool, calm and collected then either. I’m in favour of self defence but will this change clarify matters or make them more ambiguous.

  • rate this

    Comment number 36.

    "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."

    Yes - under EXISTING law they were found to have taken reasonable steps to defend themselves when they were in fear. As I said before, the existing law already allows this.


Page 89 of 91


More Politics stories



BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.