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 655.

    An English man's home is his castle, though in the case of the Right Honourable and O so tough Mr Grayling and his chums - something that rhymes approximately.

    Welcome to the Big Society!

  • rate this

    Comment number 654.


    So, you have had no confidence in Balls, Darling and Brown then, MTG? Good. They're the ones who did it.

    Not many others apart from the terminally dim, SWP students and champagne socialist self-loathers do, either.

  • rate this

    Comment number 653.

    coram-populo-2010, My last comment on this. I was burgled and felt physically sick however I would not shoot someone in the back while they were running away then not bother to tell the police. That's wrong and would make me a murderer. To summarise burglary wrong as is murder. I'm suprised at the amount of people willing to defend the 2nd because of the 1st.

  • rate this

    Comment number 652.

    We could do worse than to emulate the Swiss in their gun control & political structure models. In general are you afraid of personal freedom & with it independence or self responsibility/reliance?

    Yes. Motorists in trouble usually have a mobile, or knock on your front door, not open the rear window.

    See my comment @624. (Note the vote downs haha)

  • rate this

    Comment number 651.

    A victim of forced entry has no way of knowing if the intruder is armed or what their intentions are. That being the case, it is reasonable in the moment to assume they *are* armed and their intentions are the worst they could possibly be. Most people aren't sure where the 'sweetspot' of causing incapacitation without lasting damage is, so will 'make sure' when they do strike.

  • Comment number 650.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 649.

    There is a fundamental error in the thinking here.
    If society took convicted burglars into a dark room and battered them, the rest of us would be highly unlikely to face the dilemma of what could be deemed reasonable force. Burglary would soon be consigned to history.

  • rate this

    Comment number 648.

    I have no confidence in a government who pay lip service to domestic crime while at the same time allowing the banks to rob us of billions in bail outs.

  • rate this

    Comment number 647.

    578. TootingBull

    More like Talking Bull.

    Only Right Whingers such as yourself fail to see the reality of the situation, free schools and NHS are very soon to be a thing of the past. As we all know, the NHS as been more or less privatised by the back door, and the new "Free" school's Dave is going to churn out by the dozen, look like Hamster Houses, no doubt they will incorporate glass walls>

  • rate this

    Comment number 646.

    It really doesn't matter if there was no law in place, if some one breaks into your house and you got kids then uness you're a mind reader and no what weapons or intentions the intruder/s have got then I'd kill them out of instinct.

  • rate this

    Comment number 645.


    You've been playing too much MW3 lately ;-)

    Honing my skills for when I am burgled - I call it 'self-defence'!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 644.

    @620 The proposed change isn't sanctioning revenge, it's just shifting the balance in the favour of the victim. It's not even a huge shift, but a tweak in the right direction so all the people trying to sensationalise this by saying that it will lead to more dead bodies, gun crime, etc are taking this as an opportunity to let their imaginations run wild.

  • rate this

    Comment number 643.

    'In reality though the burglar will almost certainly be a teenager going in through an open window looking for a few quid to buy drugs'

    Then allow me to assist - don't worry yourself with buying drugs - have a little stay in hospital with a nice dose of morphine for a couple of weeks ;-)

  • rate this

    Comment number 642.

    In my town, this week after only serving 8 years of an 18 years sentence (not even half) an arsonist has been released. His actions killed eight (EIGHT!) people. He served less that 1 year per life. Justice? Pfft... I watched a programme last night where people queued to get their benefits out of a ATM at 12.30 in the MORNING!!! Mr Cameron... Talk's a good game, but all lip service I'm afraid.

  • rate this

    Comment number 641.

    The desire for vegance through punishment is innate to the human psychology - but we are supposed to live in a civilised scoiety now...

    ...we are not apes anymore & if we wish to see ourselves as above the apes & monkies we shouldn't act them...

    ...the baying mob mentality on this thread shows just how little we have evolved from our roots as fellow apes to the gorillas/chimps et al.....

  • rate this

    Comment number 640.

    It's totally ridiculous for people to somehow suggest that property owners are violent thugs and they should watch the amount of force they use.
    If you care for the rights of thieves/robbers so much, please go around & make sure we don't get robbed - I'd rather mind my own business than beat someone up, anyday (maybe that's how we managed to own anything at all.)

  • rate this

    Comment number 639.

    628. ktech11
    In response to people saying the law is fine as it is... It clearly isn't.
    Reasonable force means that the homeowner gets arrested whilst an investigation happens.
    So you think the police SHOULDN'T arrest you when they find you standing over a body in your house? Damned right you should be held while they find out what actually happened.

  • rate this

    Comment number 638.

    I would have preferred something from the Government that would aim to reduce burglary in general; a vision & plan to actually achieve this. This may probably look something like making society more just, fair, moral and ethical. This recent statement from the Conservatives doesn’t address the issue of burglary itself, just gives greater licence for society to become more violent. We want that?

  • Comment number 637.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 636.

    The point is that when I go to bed, I do not intend to commit any crime. How can it be right that I will be spending the morning in Prison because someone broke in. These guys plan to deprive you of hard earned money and instill fear. If you are the type who can batter them, then batter away I say. A burglar will think twice if he stands a chance of a walloping or worse.


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