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 475.

    You break into someone's home and they defend themselves, their family and home, and you get a good hiding in the process... Tough. Live with it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 474.

    @Rebecca Riot, you are really comparing the poor on benefits in this country to the poor living in the third world? Reality check Rebecca, I realise you’ve grown up in entitlement Britain where if people don’t just give you whatever you want you feel justified to steal it (judging by your online name). Try going to the third world & seeing real poverty before you judge, then go earn a living.

  • rate this

    Comment number 473.

    463. Insurgence2012
    " If there was fairness and opportunity for all in society then there would be no burglary"

    Yeah - right.

    There would still be those who would rather take than earn. Just as plenty who already have more than enough will still screw anyone they can for more.

  • rate this

    Comment number 472.

    @ 428.laughingman
    "Whatever, this is just the usual Tory attempt to whip the paranoid & gullible into a frenzy by concentrating on isolated & rare events."

    I beleive it is the Tories getting the UK ready for an increase in crime from the further benefit cuts they have announced combined with the fact that our justice system is weak and pathetic due to 'Human Rights' for criminals.

  • rate this

    Comment number 471.

    Where can I purchase a 'Grayling supporter' sticker for my ground floor entry points?

    Of course we could all protect our own homes, sheds & garages and actually make it difficult / impossible for intruders....

    Burglars only break into those properties with the least protection.

    Leaving open doors & windows is regarded as an open invitation to the thieving underclass.

  • rate this

    Comment number 470.

    umm couple the statements toogether clobber a burgalar and defend your own property, just think what you could do to those people the sacks ith new employment rules if they wont leave the workplace

  • rate this

    Comment number 469.

    The IMF downgrade the UK economy and there are suggestions that in the chancellors autumn statement the deficit will be shown to be increasing. This is just another diversion to take attention away from the real problems.

  • rate this

    Comment number 468.

    #441 You would rely on the police and the courts? biggest joke..that guy in the article got a lower sentence than the actual intruder,&yet you say you would rely on the police and courts.You protect your house and family how you want,if that's knives & guns then so be it,its the intruders fault for trying to break in.You do what you gotta do to protect your family.You do anything to protect them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 467.

    It was Tories & Liberal parties who put Poor Law Ammendment act through Parliamnet in 1834.

    This made it compulsory for poor to be locked in a Work House, neatly tucked out of sight & systematically starved or die from disease.

    Instead of expanding economy Victorian governments pruned the population.

    It seems that under Tory misrule we are now coming back to that same genocide policy

  • rate this

    Comment number 466.

    423.Underclass Underdog
    Oh dear. Have never voted Tory, the automatic insult of anyone who thinks it makes a blind bit of difference if I did. As it happens I think the tories have many good ideas and some pretty awful ones. Labour just seem to be a headless chicken with no real policies, I would like a real choice of a party but it seems its not to be. So I will be voting indepedent if I can.

  • rate this

    Comment number 465.

    There should be no such thing as excessive force when they are on YOUR property

  • rate this

    Comment number 464.

    There are random or opportunistic burglars and there are the planned - plus a combination of both.

    We all know not to respond to an ad through the door with only a mobile number, but many scammers make so much money they pay to use 0800 numbers as a front for credibility. Anyone can buy an 0800 number.

    Go to Trading Standards approved list from your county council and ask it be sent to you.

  • rate this

    Comment number 463.

    What does it say about a Nation of people who put the value of material possession over that of human life?

    - If there was fairness and opportunity for all in society then there would be no burglary.

    However Greed means that the lack of equity induces jealousy and retaliation, by way of taking.

    - Seems quite an understandable state of affairs in the circumstances!

  • rate this

    Comment number 462.

    385.Knut Largerson
    Steal a DVD and you risk a beating.

    Steal a Billion and you get to write a book about it.

    =>I think you'll find the Nick Leesons, Kweko Adibolis and Bernard Madoff will be writing their books in prison.

  • rate this

    Comment number 461.


  • rate this

    Comment number 460.

    410. ""Does this now mean that if I get burgled, I had it coming?"

    No one will blame you directly. You'll just have your story trotted out by right-wing politicians.

    Remember the feeding frenzy after the Aurora cinema shooting, when politicians were claiming that if only those people had taken guns to the cinema (as you do) they'd have been safe? Like that.

  • rate this

    Comment number 459.

    The Tory's all out war on the poor, which fuels crime, is a blinding example of the real crooks, and thieves, lording it over the electorate, as was the case in Dickensian Era Britain. Should you be unfortunate enough, most people will be, to be born without wealth, don't expect any protection from the law, the law in this country serves only the rich. If you don't earn enough, you're worthless.

  • rate this

    Comment number 458.

    I note that the Conservative Conference was as sparely attended today as yesterday. Telling. Ms. Greening, accountant before entering parliament, who oversaw the West Coast bidding fiasco, £410m over, is hardly a draw. Mail readers are acting as tail-gunners at home, then. Empty seat could have been put up again for grabs, as they were at the Olympics, to the public (stage-management jeopardy!).

  • rate this

    Comment number 457.

    I know this point has been made before but one does not know what is proportionate and what is not proportionate, seeing that one is not trained to police standards in the use of force and restraint, so this pronouncement by Grayling does not achieve anything, apart from muddying the waters just a little bit more.

  • rate this

    Comment number 456.

    @383. Plant_Smith

    A legal weapon yes. Obviously. Like a pistol, rifle or shotgun which is registered. There should not be a Govt register, you should be able to have any weapon you choose, & keep how you wish, without Govt permission or knowledge. But for the purposes of this question, yes, a legally registered pistol for example.


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