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 255.

    Shaunie Babes

    Can any of the vigilantes on here name a single case where someone engaged in legitimate self defence (ie "not teaching someone a lesson") has ever been convicted ?

    Thought not"
    Err , Tony Martin ........?

  • rate this

    Comment number 254.

    There are still certain weapons that are legal in this country to protect your property as long as you advertise that they are in place. So I question 'disproportionate' if these weapons are infact legal. In one case would burn you so bad, you’d probably never walk again.

  • rate this

    Comment number 253.


    DC was burgled. . . . twice. . .. . just for your info :-)

  • rate this

    Comment number 252.

    Having thought this through, there's a business opportunity here. I'm going to open a shop selling offensive weapons. I think I'll call it 'Graylings', in homage to the man who made it legally possible for you to answer the door cradling a blunderbuss, with a tetchy Rhodesian Ridgeback by your side. The odd postman may be eaten by mistake, but this is collateral damage in the 'War Against Crime'.

  • rate this

    Comment number 251.

    I hope the law takes into account the amount of people who will fail to dissuade their burglars, and then get killed themselves by the intruder. He is only committing self defence after all. If they had not confronted him, they'd still be alive. So the burglar should have the full weight of the law on his side in such circumstances.

    Or is it yet another case of one law for the rich.......

  • rate this

    Comment number 250.

    the other aspect the tories need to look at is whether the police would bother to arrest burglars; when i was burgled the police knew and told me who had done it, retrieved my stolen items but wouldn't take it further because and i quote "it costs the CPS too much"...............

  • rate this

    Comment number 249.

    @ WaywardTraveller, true most burglars target empty homes, it’s easier and lower risk for them. We are talking about cases where someone is home here.

    Do those who have stepped outside the law & are in the process of committing a crime deserve the protection of the law while they do it?

    As a society we think they do, is that part of the reason we have such high crime rates?

  • rate this

    Comment number 248.

    How is defending your family and home, by whatever means, over reacting?
    More conference hot air.
    Maybe if we were all as rich as some of these politicians, we could all have state of the art intruder alarms installed in our homes, and armed, ex Royal Marines and Paratroopers as security guards.

  • rate this

    Comment number 247.

    The best quote I ever saw relating to this sort of thing was "Better to be judged by twelve than carried by 6!", if a burglar breaks in I will defend myself and my property and hope the law backs me later.

  • rate this

    Comment number 246.

    This is a two edged sword, yes it is good to have some reassurance that in the heat of the moment you have some latitude for your actions. BUT on the down side if we have raised the bar won't the intruder ? The law in this country keeps the law abiding citizen effectively disarmed - no tazzer. pepper spray etc. We should also where have the right to reasonable means of defending ourselves.

  • rate this

    Comment number 245.

    237.Shaunie Babes
    I guess you've never heard of Tony Martin then.

  • rate this

    Comment number 244.

    A Tories meeting:
    David: So what will happen if we cut benefits, a lot of benefits.
    David's yes men: Crime/burglary will rise.
    David: What about the poor children and there parents.
    Nick: Still might not help.
    David: I know we could make new laws to help the rich and those lazy working class be more safe.
    David's rich friends: We would support this.
    David: then it's done!
    Me: I'm not a mug!!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 243.

    @ 218.Dave
    "Is your burglar drug-crazed & HIV+?
    Is your burglar a rapist, kidnapper or a murderer?
    Who should the real victim be?
    You or them?"

    Me and my family. I have no control on their unbringing or decisions they have taken in their lives. Remember, these people often re-offend time and time again and have no consideration for others.

  • rate this

    Comment number 242.

    "Why can't we just maintain the status quo?"

    There is no status quo. I disagree with earlier comment - we shouldn't legislate to give people the 'right' to defend their home - it should be an unalenable right - it should never have been removed in the first pace.

  • rate this

    Comment number 241.

    Had a naked female burglar break into my country estate.
    Are you game, said I.
    Yes, she replied.
    So I shot her.
    Haw, haw, haw.

  • rate this

    Comment number 240.

    It is very simple. Don't break in to other people's homes. If you do now, you will face real justice.

  • rate this

    Comment number 239.


    Thrre is only one conclusion that can be drawn from you post - that you believe that if someone beats the living daylights out of someone they don't like, who they invited into their home, then claim it was a burgular, the Police should not investigate the incident & just take the word of the resident? Pathetic.....

  • rate this

    Comment number 238.

    197. "It's about time the law was on the side of law abiding citizens and not the criminals."

    Law abiding citizen: someone who broke the law but shouldn't be punished for it because someone else broke it first much worserer.

    The law recognises that you have either broken the law or you haven't. It does not accept this mimsy notion of the "law abiding citizen".

  • rate this

    Comment number 237.

    Can any of the vigilantes on here name a single case where someone engaged in legitimate self defence (ie "not teaching someone a lesson") has ever been convicted ?

    Thought not

  • rate this

    Comment number 236.

    What about theft taking place outside the home. Should we not also be protected if we over-react to the daily theft we are suffering.


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