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 115.

    For those people who say the law already protects them, in principle that may be right but it's not the law itself that's creating the problem but those in the system that interpret it e.g. courts. Greater clarity has to be provided otherwise we wouldn't have miscarriages of justice where people protecting themselves are jailed. The burglar loses his right to protection when invading the home

  • rate this

    Comment number 114.

    102. It's always the fault of society isn't it? In some fools minds nobody need take respinsibility for their own actions. Maybe the burglars should sit down with their cups of tea and think about doing something useful FOR society instead of stealing from others.

  • rate this

    Comment number 113.

    So what is he suggesting we keep beside our beds in case of knife weilding burglers...A gun so we wont get hurt at all, or something like a tennis racket so you can give them a mighty thump but its reasonable rackets are made for hitting things in a sporting capacity

  • rate this

    Comment number 112.

    This should be getting used quite a bit shortly - high unemployment, benefits being cut, the police force at almost crisis staffing and funding levels. Anyone breaking into my place will be met with anything heavy/blunt/fluffy/tickly/stabby round the face and kidneys till I'm happy they're getting up. It's like they're expecting an upsurge in crime - if only there were something we could do.

  • rate this

    Comment number 111.

    I'm reading this as : we have permission to release the hounds if any plebs trespass on the grounds of our mansions.

  • rate this

    Comment number 110.

    The simple fact is that the person or people prepared to unlawfully enter your home should by doing so leave any of their rites at the door. The home owner should have the power to defend his/her family and contents from these thieving degenerates. There simply is no room for them in society and by giving them a slap on the wrist is no deterrent, stronger punishment should ensue.

  • rate this

    Comment number 109.

    The down side is that more burglars may arm themselves and not every householder can defend themselves.

  • rate this

    Comment number 108.

    89: You are already allowed to defend yourself with reasonable force though so I'm a bit unclear what the difference will be here. It seems a nice story for the Government to appear tough on crime though. If you over react to the circumstances of a burglary you're still going to prison.

  • rate this

    Comment number 107.

    My problem is that the criminals will now go better equipped with more effective weapons causing more murders in the home. Happened with knife crime - people carry knives to "protect" themselves - more fights with knives more murders/manslaughters using knives.

  • rate this

    Comment number 106.

    I would be interested to see a survey carried out to find out which political parties these habitual criminals vote for?

    Will they be greedy TORIES!

    Will they be parasitic Labour!

    Will they be something in the middle?

  • rate this

    Comment number 105.

    If a would be thief steps into my house, for the protection of my family I would act first and think of the consequences later. If this is a move to assist me should such a horrible thing happen I welcome it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 104.

    If someone breaks into my house when I am there then I will defend my family, property and myself to the utmost. I will not try to kill anyone but if an intruder refuses to leave or brandishes a weapon, I reserve the right to 'strenuously incapacitate' them with a big stick until the police arrive.
    This is an unlikely scenario as most, not all (it isn't a myth), break-ins occur in the daytime.

  • rate this

    Comment number 103.

    @73 rob (apt name that)
    Let's pray it doesn't get as bad as South Africa. my brother-in law in Johannesburg just failed to prevent a burglar escaping with their stereo. When the Boer policeman arrived, he checked his documents, found no gun licence, and said "that's why you were robbed". He was advised to get a magnum, and shoot to kill, as there would be so much paperwork after a wounding.

  • rate this

    Comment number 102.

    It's not the burglars' fault, it's the fault of society. The best thing to do is to suggest we all sit down with a nice cup of tea and discuss the socio-economic conditions that drove them to this situation. Then, if it can't be sorted out by dialogue, a measured physical response may be used.

  • rate this

    Comment number 101.

    73. rob
    Baseball bats under the bed, panic buttons, safe rooms. Let's go the whole hog and adopt the"right of the people to keep and bear Arms". Shoot first and ask questions after. Oops that's America not Britain, a country to which we should aspire?

    First sensible post and at the price of guns today most people could afford them. Well said sir.

  • rate this

    Comment number 100.

    It has always been the case that you are entiltled to defend yourself, be that in your home, or anywhere else. The question is one of proportionate response. It seems from the language used that the defender will soon have greater latitute to protect themselves. Overdue, but still not a replacement for effective policing.

  • rate this

    Comment number 99.

    Just hope its not another lie,more than likely get extra sentence for defending yourself.

  • rate this

    Comment number 98.

    I doubt much will change, but given the high profile cases there have been in recent years I think this is something that needs clarifying and the bar lifting for people asleep in their beds. If you break into somebones house you have no rights, you lose them the second you commit the crime..

  • rate this

    Comment number 97.

    At last one of the issues i voted the tories (for the 1st time ever) is going to be addressed Reform the benefits system, school system, judicial system, and have a strict regime to pay up the deficit and i'll vote tory again. Labour/unions take note this is what we in the 'squeezed middle' want as a basic rite Over taxing the rich is not a priority as we know what it is to work hard & be rewarded

  • rate this

    Comment number 96.

    Could we see some reliable statistics on the number of burglaries committed while the occupants were (a) at home and (b) capable of effectively defending themselves.

    Because I read somewhere that burglars mostly targeted empty properties and the weak.

    Thus tending to avoid houses full of wide awake baseball bat wielding Yahoos.


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