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 155.

    If I put myself in a burgler's shoes, then he will be just as freightened too. They don't want conflict either. I'd say confront the burgler at a fair distance and then offer them something that you never really wanted like your stereo that you wanted to get rid of anyway and the telly.Claim it on insurance, new for old."

    I'm speechless!

  • rate this

    Comment number 154.

    It's about time they brought in Tony Martin's Law.

  • rate this

    Comment number 153.

    Finally some logic!! For too long have we lived under the goody goody labour human rights act that protects the intruder and not the owner and his family.

    I say protect those that work
    I say protect those that contribute and pay taxes
    I say protect families
    I say remove protection from those that break into properties

    Well done Chris Grayling

  • rate this

    Comment number 152.

    When I moved into this country,I thought the justice system will have a big difference from the country where I came from. Sadly, the system were being abused.It tends to give more humane punishment to criminals who uses this so called of yours "Human Rights". When a person commits a crime w/c is against the law,that person loses his human right! And what about the Human right of his victim?

  • rate this

    Comment number 151.

    129 farkyss

    Absolutely spot on.Have these people ever been burgled or had their family threatened? I think not. Having someone enter your home uninvited is terrifying, even "just" stealing your possessions or trashing the place is an appalling violation. And yet people on here dont want you to have the right to defend your home and family?


  • rate this

    Comment number 150.

    I have been burgled and was asleep in the house at the time. I really don't know what I would have done had I woken up to find strangers in the house but I have been told what they might have done to me. No-one has the right to enter someones home uninvited and should the owner wish to defend their property then the burglar should take the consequences and the law must back the victim.

  • rate this

    Comment number 149.

    The hope would continue to be that people first of all thought about the security of their property (doors, windows, alarms,etc) before placing baseball bats next to their beds. A clarified, sensible self-defence definition is clearly to be welcomed, but here's hoping it doesn't lead to an upsurge in burglars arming themselves in expectation.

  • rate this

    Comment number 148.

    Thats getting better . Maybe pistols should be distributed to house holders ?

  • rate this

    Comment number 147.

    As Ed Milliband the worst person ever to lead the Labour party said we are all Plebs apart from the Tory front bench apparently. Well Eddy my friend, I am no pleb and I am no burglar and I am no Tory and I am offended you told us at the conference we are all Plebs!
    Looks like people here think Plebs are the people who burgle houses, so next time think about what you say, it does nothing for Labor

  • rate this

    Comment number 146.

    121.B Burnett
    When a burglar breaks into your home, he has no respect for your life, safety or the welfare of your family.
    Sorry, this is just over emotional rubbish.
    Most burglars want a quick in/out to pick up cash and some valuables.
    I had one trying to break in a window a while back. I shouted at him and he ran off. Stabbing him or beating him to a pulp would have been excessive.

  • rate this

    Comment number 145.

    What if they are invited round to the house? The owner of the property says he was a burglar, shoots him dead. No one can say if he was a burglar or not? When is a burglar a burglar and not just tresspassing? The law as it stands is the right one, just another Tory (let's win over the Daily Mail readers) ideas. I fear it will create more problems than it solves

  • rate this

    Comment number 144.

    There are 3 points to this story:

    1. People should be able to defend themselves against robbers. If you don't want to be battered, don't break in!

    2. There has to be some legislation against those who would batter an innocent person just walking up their driveway.

    3. The Tories are creating a divided society, and need to legislate against the increase in crime they are fuelling.

  • rate this

    Comment number 143.

    Yes Its the same old Nasty Tories at it again, whilst Labour would rather has a burglar on benefits break in and steal possessions and giving the burglar free legal aid to sue you

  • rate this

    Comment number 142.

    Burglars are, on the whole, opportunistic people who are very likely under the influence when carrying out their crime, very few will stay around for a fight if disturbed. Those that do stay in someones house when confronted are likely to be more serious criminals, who are prepared for that eventuality. This will give some legal backing for those who are prepared to fight, and quite rightly too

  • rate this

    Comment number 141.

    "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."

    Phone the police! It isn't that difficult?

  • rate this

    Comment number 140.

    Let's hope that the courts will consistently find on the side of the householder. The question remains, once the "threat" has been removed, should the householder have managed to subdue and restrain the burgalar, would forceably holding them until the police arrive constitute an offence? This also need clarification.

  • rate this

    Comment number 139.

    Seems like total common sense to me - if your in your house with your family and someone has broken in, you should be able to do whatever it takes to protect them.

    Homeowners should never face prosecution in this situation. If the burglar doesn't want to be hurt, there is a very simple solution - don't break into someones home.

  • rate this

    Comment number 138.

    The law should be, if you break into someone's house, do it at your own risk. It is reasonable to assume that a burglar breaking into your house at 3am is going to be armed with something. Why should you stand idly by and have your home ransacked and your family terrorised... or worse? Why is the law on the side of the criminals?

  • rate this

    Comment number 137.

    This just reminds me of when Homer Simpson invites Ned Flanders in to his home just so he can beat him. This law can and will be abused.

  • rate this

    Comment number 136.

    Would be intruders be warned... Judge Dread lives here!


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