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 615.

    Unless a burglar gives advance notice of intentions, e.g. letter stating expected time of intrusion and items marked for procurement, then it is perfectly reasonable for the homeowner to assume the worst and take preventative measures. This change just makes it less likely for the homeowner to be charged should they come off better in any conflict. And quite rightly so in my opinion.

  • rate this

    Comment number 614.

    It takes courage to burgle, if they were awarded medals for bravery instead of being treated like common criminals it may help them integrate into society as better citizens.

  • rate this

    Comment number 613.

    People are trying to apply rational, logical analysis to a highly charged set of circumstances. It's dark, your kids are terrified, the dog's barking and there is an intruder in your home....reason goes out the window and this law change will sensibly recognise that it's the intruder who must take the risk of unplanned outcomes.

  • rate this

    Comment number 612.

    601. Yes I have been faced with a drug addict thrusting a screwdriver at me. It was very scary. I shouted at him then ran. So did he, in the other direction. I appreciate I was lucky, but I still didn't feel the urge to shoot/beat to pulp etc.

  • rate this

    Comment number 611.

    The law seems to be fine, but if anyone breaks into one's home, they should be prepared to meet any force that the homeowner sees fit to use, including a shot gun pellet between the eyes. Why should anyone be expected to consider the wellbeing of an intruder intent on harming ones property or family? We live in a sick society. Theft is a violent act and anyone engaging in it risks a violent end.

  • rate this

    Comment number 610.

    This isn't just about material wealth, it's about you and your families lives, the intruder could be a crazed sociopath intend on murdering your wife and kids, or he could be someone looking for your ipod. Why take the chance? Anyone on here saying they would let an intruder go or ignore them are delusional.

  • rate this

    Comment number 609.

    As this is not an everyday occurance you are not going to consult a solicitor when an intruder is in your home. However some of the comments on here are very Wild West. Tackling an intruder is a very dangerous business. In my experience you are best to get out of the building and summon help, if you can. If you are trapped, well all bets are off. Let's hope it does not happen to you.

  • rate this

    Comment number 608.

    585 colinwe
    there are thousands of illegal guns around, most owned by criminals.
    he did not use it on a daily basis, only for protection- on his own property.
    only thing he did wrong was not starting his digger up to dispose of the evidence.

  • rate this

    Comment number 607.

    572. eConundrum

    Yes, all this free stuff for the poor was great, but that is being wholeheartedly, and enthusiastically stripped away from them, we may not be Saudi just yet, but give it a few years, and we won't be far behind mate. Why else would our lovely Government implement Disability Denial centres? Or Slave Fair? I'm glad you are one of the few still living in luxury. Hope it lasts.

  • rate this

    Comment number 606.

    On the surface, this sounds perfectly reasonable. However, we need to be careful not to slide into moralistic vigilantism - the force should be reasonable, proportional, and contextual within each given situation - actions beyond this must be regarded as criminal. Confronting an intruder should not be encouraged - better to retreat and call the police - life is worth more than property.

  • rate this

    Comment number 605.

    Psychologically burglary is an assault on the person. It should carry the same punishment levels and consequentially force used by the householder is 'defence' by definition. There are obvious exceptions and ridiculous extremes and the law can judge each of those cases on their own merit but in general the supposition should be that force is used in self defence and therefore legal.

  • rate this

    Comment number 604.

    What a fun thread this is. Great opportunities for macho fantasists to sound off about how they are going to bash a burglar, apologists for criminals to defend the underclass's rights to crime and little room for any sound analysis or sensible comment.

    It's turned HYS into a fringe event of the Tory Party Conference - which DC and pals must be loving given they have so little to offer otherwise.

  • rate this

    Comment number 603.

    I usually disagree with the Torries on everything, but this will be a very good change.

    I think the Tony Martin case was a good example. Using a gun was fairly disproportionate, and any attack that could be expected to kill is also disproportionate. But then doing 3 years is also a suitable punishment.

    Any lesser actions (that you would expect to disable rather than kill) should be allowed

  • rate this

    Comment number 602.

    550 Underdog Underclass, what are you on about I am not in law and how you got to me being Abu’s lawyer I’ve no idea at all. Your reply seems to have no relation to my post are you confused? I went to a state comprehensive and paid my own way in education after that via a student loan which took me a while to pay of but was worth it, I work in IT.

  • rate this

    Comment number 601.

    The levels of violence being discussed on here are amazing. It's very scary!!
    Ever been face to face with a burglar? I have. He was waving an evil looking heavy crowbar. He ran off. I was unarmed but am v. fit & able. But it's possible anyone else cld have been badly clubbed. So if the threat of a bit of violence puts fear into criminals that's ok by me.

  • rate this

    Comment number 600.

    'What a sad state of affairs when an Xbox has greater value than a Human life'

    You're right but I won't be entering into any wishy washy conversation with a burglar to find out what his intentions are and it's my Xbox not his.

    You're rhetoric though is typical of those who blame the victim for the crime.

  • rate this

    Comment number 599.

    In the US the law on what people can do to protect their property varies between states. Fact those states that allow householders to shoot a burglar have much fewer break ins. If you find a burglar in your house you have no idea if they are armed or if they will attack you. As you are likely to get only once chance to deal with them any action is reasonable. We should protect the victims of crime

  • rate this

    Comment number 598.

    Tony Martin should have been prosecuted for keeping an illegal fire arm. The way he used that illegal weapon was however justified and reasonable.

  • rate this

    Comment number 597.

    If a burglar doesn't want to be attacked in any shape or form its simple, don't break into people's houses. The threat that they may take a good beating if they break into the wrong house may deter a few.

  • rate this

    Comment number 596.

    Surely it would have been more appropriate to change the law in terms of viewing what is 'reasonable force' given a particular circumstance than now giving license to use unreasonable force. That definitely ups the stakes for everyone (including the nasty burglers). Now there is a question of just how unreasonable can we be? Where exactly is the line between unreasonable and grossly unreasonable?


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