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 135.

    Its bothered me too. A totally clean record minding your own business at home harming no one & nothing. Your arrested in handcuffs carted off interrogated etc...cautioned or prosecuted all because some idiot chooses you to break into. The hello, help yourself while I phone the law notion of dealing with burglars is just ridiculous.Especially when the police have no interest in responding.

  • rate this

    Comment number 134.

    Am I allowed to stand by my door with a piece of 2x4 to have at the next Tory Party canvasser who hoves into view?

    Oh, sorry. My mistake. You said 'burglar' instead of 'bunglers'. Is misreading a news article a defence in law? ;-)

  • rate this

    Comment number 133.

    Hang on a second!! I was unemployed for months during the 91 recession, following a redundancy. I had absolutely no money, was back living with Parents and friends floors and its fair to say, I was at absolute rock bottom. Not once though, did I think to go and burgle someone else's house. I'm afraid if you enter someone else's property illegaly, ANY rights you have are left on the door step.

  • rate this

    Comment number 132.

    Isn't it time to end the 'double standard' which means the burglar can prosecute a homeowner who gives him a kicking? The hypocrisy is astonishing. They break the law (choice), then use the law to prosecute a homeowner (who was given no choice).

  • rate this

    Comment number 131.

    Basically, this government intend to develop a society in which there will be a lot of very poor people looking enviously at a minority of obscenely rich people. The obscenely rich will require more protection than they now have. This legalizes beating up by private security guards and mauling by dogs, neither of which is grossly disproportionate. If I kick a burglar's head in I'll still do time.

  • rate this

    Comment number 130.

    I've always said that the law should only protect those who respect it.

    If you're in the process of committing a crime, you should have no protection whatsoever under law, either civil or criminal. That way, if a burglar, thug, or any other criminal comes to significant harm, on their own head be it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 129.

    This will change nothing beause the law will still be wide open to interpretation to a variety of judges with all manner of agendas.

    We need full protection from prosecution for anyone protecting their home from intruders and trespassers, PERIOD. Remove the 'grossly disproportionate' and we're there.

  • rate this

    Comment number 128.

    As has been pointed out many times, the existing law does allow you to defend your house. Though maybe the reality is that the legal process that people have to go through afterwards is itself wrong, even if it does almost always end in in no charges being made.

    What we need is a law that stops people from being arresting in all but the most extreme cases.

  • rate this

    Comment number 127.

    I agree with this, being confronted by a burglar who has violated your home & could pose a threat to you, your wife and children is an extremely stressful situation and we shouldn’t be surprised if people overreact.

    The burglar has chosen to put themselves in that situation and unlike the innocent householder the law should make allowances for that.

  • rate this

    Comment number 126.

    Should actual home owners or private tenants (not council tenants) be allowed to attack someone in the street (probably a council tenant) even if they simply appear to be a burglar i.e. wearing a hoodie? It sounds fair and should be considered.

  • rate this

    Comment number 125.

    66. Bill Walker
    Thats not going to change, the police would still need to check the facts and make sure that the law is not being used to murder somebody and just claim self defence. Potentially you could invite somebody round to your home, claim you thought they were a burglar and kill them claiming self defence and mistaken identity.

  • rate this

    Comment number 124.

    I'm all for capital punishment. A burglar has no right whatsoever being in your property. A burglar has no right to steal something that does not belong to them.

    Some people here seem to be favouring the burglars too much. Myself? If I caught them breaking into my house I would beat them to within an inch of their lives. I would use any means necessary to protect my home, shy of killing them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 123.

    A burglar breaking in doesn't care about your life, so why should you care about theirs? Why should you be limited in your actions when the burglar won't be thinking of reasonable force or any other limitations.

    I think the assumption that your life is it risk is pretty reasonable and you should do anything you can to defend your life and those of your family.

  • rate this

    Comment number 122.

    You might not be so quickly prosecuted by the law now ….

    But in the mad world we now live in.

    You will still be sued by the burglar (no win no fee) for the physical harm, the psychological stress, and the time he spends incapacitate and unable to ply his trade.

  • rate this

    Comment number 121.

    When a burglar breaks into your home, he has no respect for your life, safety or the welfare of your family. So all these idiots who are saying respect the life of the burglar are extremely naive or living on a another planet. I will use force on a burglar if my kids safety is at stake. Ever tried threatening a bear cub in front of its mother? Well you know what will happen to you!

  • Comment number 120.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 119.

    Regardless of the current law if someone breaks into my home with an intention to steal and or harm the occupants, of course I am going to beat them into a pulp without thinking; the survival instinct would be the only one that was on my mind not a calm thought process of will I get in trouble for defending my family. I did not pick up mma to have a polite chat with a burglar

  • rate this

    Comment number 118.

    It's about time! not having to worry about prosecution for thumping a burglar a couple of times. The only thing is, there is not much you can do if they have guns and things like like when I was burgled. you just stop them entering your bedroom at 2 in the morning and hope for the best!

  • rate this

    Comment number 117.

    As with all so called legal clarifications, many will still face challenge in a court over their actions. Despite the assurances from politicians that there will be more protection, the law is made in the courts.

  • rate this

    Comment number 116.

    If you don't want to get hurt, don't break into someone's home. If you do break into someone's home, you take a chance on getting hurt - it's not like you can claim you didn't know you weren't supposed to be there.

    Seems perfectly obvious to me!


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