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 495.

    Let us hope this is not the only Criminal Law to be modified by this Government. A return to common sense law making and repealing will keep this Government in power.

  • rate this

    Comment number 494.

    I think it's the tabloid media and its half-baked stories that has some people confused. You can use proportionate force on someone who is illegally in your home but you can't chase an intruder down the street and set about him/her with a cricket bat. If people think Dave is giving them carte blanche to attack burglars, think again.

  • rate this

    Comment number 493.

    If this was brought in top deter burglers then all well and good. However, in other countries, where residents have the right to protect their property using firearms, burglers still exist.

    Just the Tories getting Dailty Mail readers all fired up (forgive the pun)

  • rate this

    Comment number 492.

    #397 and #405

    Home-made pepper spray can be legal to use on private property. Provided it is made up in an innocuous container it does NOT contravene the firearms act. I know as I've used it against an attacker on my doorstep and although I was arrested under the Firearms act I could not be charged under it. Very effective is is too :-)

  • rate this

    Comment number 491.

    A 23-year-old student with no previous convictions was jailed for six months after pleading guilty to burglary after taking bottles of water worth £3.50 from Lidl in Brixton.

    A Labour MP who tried to take a Bang and Olufsen TV worth £8,000 from the British Taxpayers Inland Revenue was given a knowing glare from Mr Speaker!

  • rate this

    Comment number 490.

    446. "I think you 're missing the point. Tony Martin was not a hero, he was a criminal long before the thieves turned up. He had illegal weapons in his farmhouse which would have seen him do a few years jail had the police known about them."

    It's strange that so many self-proclaimed "law abiding citizens" have chosen this 100% confirmed lawbreaker as their hero.

  • rate this

    Comment number 489.

    will people stop trying to turn this into a political debate.
    if you get caught you could lose your life full stop.
    tory labour lib it does not matter.

  • rate this

    Comment number 488.

    Oh dear.
    Even as a Tory I'm getting a bit fed up of stories designed to distract from the real issues of the day.
    Dear Mr Cameron can you please tell me how you are going to get the economy moving, when you are going to stop - not reduce - immigration and give me a vote on the EU?
    No, thought not...........

  • rate this

    Comment number 487.

    This stupidity will be easily navigated by crafty burglars. They will only target wealthy OAP's who struggle to pick up their pocket books, let alone a lethal weapon.

    466. JasonEssex

    I agree, yet there are few alternatives to the three stooges. We all know the election will be rigged yet again to keep the smaller party's out, for the sake of big business and the filthy rich.

  • rate this

    Comment number 486.

    Maybe another way to prevent burglaries could be ... oh, I dunno ... stop cutting the number of policemen!

  • rate this

    Comment number 485.

    Crime has little to do with being poor. It is mainly about drug needs and a total lack of respect for other people and/or their property.

    The term poor is relative in this country. Nobody is starving to death and everyone has access to clean drinking water.

    If all the do gooders want to help these thieves, let them take them into their homes and look after them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 484.

    459.I am not a tory myself,however,I fail to see how the tories are waging an all out war on the poor. Please give examples.Furthermore the law doesn't just protect the rich, what a ridiculous statement. This policy is not even slightly class specific, It's attitudes like yours born of years of labour gumph which are holding this country back. if anyone is draconian, it you.

  • rate this

    Comment number 483.

    OK force: You club a burglar with a bat until he is no longer a threat but as a result he dies, or you shoot him once and he gets up and you shoot him again.

    Unreasonable force: you club him until he's semi conscious then castrate him for revenge and feed him his own nuts while pulling out his finger nails.

    It's not hard to know the difference. If you can reasonably justify it it's OK.

  • rate this

    Comment number 482.

    Tories are running out of things to say - Day 3 of conference say something for easy headlines. This was mentioned a few conferences back and the law has always stated that you can use reasonable force (given that a jury will decide on what is reasonable). So the law does favour home owners already.

  • rate this

    Comment number 481.

    @450 Who caused the situation? He could be lying in wait all year but it still needs a criminal prepared to enter his property. It's ok that they thought the house was empty then?

    People who talk about people being driven to burglary is nonsense. Firstly, burglary is at its' lowest rate for years. Also, the riots showed that people don't steal out of necessity, they stole ostentatious goods.

  • rate this

    Comment number 480.

    455.Merlin from London
    'How many people does this issue actually affect per year?'

    745,000 burglaries in 2011 so I would suggest quite a few.

  • rate this

    Comment number 479.

    456. Bastiat
    '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'

    A nutters charter you mean, so we can have a few more Hungerford's, Dunblane's or Cumbria shootings?

  • rate this

    Comment number 478.

    This is marvellous news. At last, a piece of legislation which actually protects the victim and not the criminal. If these thugs invade our proprties, we should be able to protect ourselves, our families, and our property, by any means at our disposal. If this means endangering the life of the criminal, too bad. The world will be a better place without them in any event!

  • rate this

    Comment number 477.

    456. Bastiat
    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
    Please move to Texas. You'll be happier and we'll be safer not having to worry about 100 7.62mm rounds coming through the window at 2am because you've heard a noise downstairs and let rip with your M60.

  • rate this

    Comment number 476.

    re. "hug a hoodie" to one willing to allow the public to "bash a burglar".

    err - a hoodie is a fashion accessory and wearing one is not a crime, a minority of hoodies are criminals


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