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 175.

    An intruder is an unknown quantity.

    Unless you have the drop on them and a substantial weapon capable of rendering the intruder incabable of fighting back with the first blow then I think you would be well advised to refrain from launching an attack no matter what the law says.

  • rate this

    Comment number 174.

    The law is inconsistent anyway.

    For example, a male can be arrested for indecent exposure, yet if women expose themselves they're committing a much lesser crime of a public order offence.

    We as householders need firm clarification as to what can be done. "Stabbing a burglar to death after you've knocked him unconcious breaks the law" - David Cameron - can you stab him when he's awake then?

  • rate this

    Comment number 173.

    It seems to me that this change in the law will cast into an Act of Parliament the current practice of judges anyway. I suppose that is broadly a sensible thing to do as law should be made in Parliament not in courts, but it's hardly worth getting as worked up about it as many are.

  • rate this

    Comment number 172.

    They would turn in their graves
    "Tory voters are worried about the new masses of poor breaking into their mansions"
    So someone who is rich deserves to be burgled then do they? Whether you're poor or rich it's a disturbing crime, so at least be grown up enough not to make a joke of it!!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 171.

    I wonder how the law would work round the edges. It seems self explanatory for confrinting burglars who break in, but what if said burglar grabs your flatscreen and runs? Can you chase him with say a knife to get your property back, and stab him in the back to stop him? I know my answer to that, but interested in what the law will say

  • rate this

    Comment number 170.

    And the namby pamby liberal social worker types will just wring their hands & say: "What about the poor burgler? he didn't have the same life chances as the home owner so let's intervene & give him all the benefits the state has to offer" (invariably its a him).

  • rate this

    Comment number 169.

    Well, when the Tory's implement all these new austerity measures, there will be a lot more burglary's taking place, so now the tory's have legalised the murder of the poor, essentially. Isn't this a wonderful government. Don't forget posh home owners, most burglars will be armed and dangerous. And why exactly is the DWP secretary IDS getting involved in this? Something sinister going on here.

  • rate this

    Comment number 168.

    Having a burglar breaking into your house is extremely terrifying. He's downstairs, he's armed, he wants your belongings and he wants to rape you. And it's incredibly frustrating when the police tell me I can't attack him with a weapon, I can't booby trap my house etc. seems the only thing you can do is help him with the heavy lifting. In my experience, I think it should be legal to kill them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 167.

    You should be able to defend yourself to whatever level you need too. And if you knock the burglar out then stab him in the back, it isn't murder, as Mr Cameron suggested on air this morning, it is making sure that he doesn't get up and do any more harm.

  • rate this

    Comment number 166.

    This doesn't go far enough.

    We need a law that says "anyone comitting a criminal act or act of trespass are solely responsible for anything that happens to them while committing that act and has no right to any claim of compensation"


  • rate this

    Comment number 165.

    This country has long gone out of their way to protect criminals. I am pretty sure that if someone were to rape me in my own home and the rapist stubbed his toe on the end table, end tables would be banned. I hope that this will mark a positive change in a person's right to defend themselves from people who have no business being out on the street anyway.

  • rate this

    Comment number 164.

    Why are so many people commenting "there doesn't need to be a new law, it's covered under existing laws?"

    Read the article.

    There is no proposal for a new law.

    Simply an out-and-out clarification of it, as the existing law has been applied inconsistently AND a lot of members of the public do not know their rights.

  • rate this

    Comment number 163.

    Let's hop the government remember to set up counselling services to help people cope if they end up killing an intruder.

    An average householder wont deal with the guilt of killing someone all that well, unless they've done it before in the military or something. Plus, the intruders background will come out, potentially adding to the guilt, or perhaps making them feel justified for killing them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 162.

    What bothers me is that someday you might be told that you should've kept a weapon in your house by someone who will pretend to sympathise with you as a victim of crime but will really just be resenting you for creating paperwork.

  • rate this

    Comment number 161.

    Yes, but why stop with burglery. Surely if someone tries to attack or mug you in the street you should be allowed to use whatever force you like there. It is a sad reflection on this country that most of us would agree that if someone comes into our home or tires to rob us and we shoot them dead, we will probably be more seriously prosecuted than the intruder.

  • rate this

    Comment number 160.

    As soon as someone enters your home or property without permission in order to commit a crime, all bets are off IMO. In that situation one has no way of telling if the intruder is armed, nor what his intentions are. In that situation then striking them with a nearby object, your fists, legs, elbows etc should be perfectly reasonable. I would keep doing this until the intruder is no longer a threat

  • rate this

    Comment number 159.

    Ofcourse you should be able to defend yourself/family/home in such circumstances. My only concern is that burglars arm themselves more as a result, and even more vulnerable people will be targeted instead i.e. elderly, disabled etc. I am not elderly, but live alone with 3 young children. It worries me.

  • rate this

    Comment number 158.

    while i agree....its really a smokescreen , nothing will change.its the eu,in reality, which govern the uk now.

  • rate this

    Comment number 157.

    Well this is an obvious appeal to sadists everywhere. Yes, I would not apply self-restraint in dealing with an intruder. No, I do not want a lower standard of law to apply within my house. What's next - the crime passionel?

    I want to see energy sentencing applied. We all have about the same to spare. 1 GigaJoule at the dynamo (about 1,000 hours hard work, longer for slackers) would be no holiday.

  • rate this

    Comment number 156.

    This is dangerous rabble rousing that's probably been designed simply as a crowd pleaser, and without much thought for the consequences that will follow. There are questions as to whether this is a real problem in the first place as most burglaries occur while the householder is out, and the law already supports the use of reasonable force by the householder.


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