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 675.

    647.Underclass Underdog
    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.
    Very good. Obviously a comedian - an unemployed one
    Firstly, you don't know my politics so don't be arrogant. Secondly, you have to deal with the current ie reality

  • rate this

    Comment number 674.

    #664 surely you also see 'red mist' if you find your wife in bed with another man. In France you might get away with it, but here its almost certainly murder. At best you may get a reduced sentence for diminished responsibility but never in a million years will you walk away free.

  • rate this

    Comment number 673.

    I find the irony, duplicity and downright contradiction of the previous Labour Government who went down the path of 'attack being the best form of defence' in Iraq and Afganistan but allowed buglars to prosecute homeowners and claim compensation if they became injured just unbeleivable.

    Only an misguided party would allow this to happen to their own people.

  • rate this

    Comment number 672.

    Here we see another PR exercise in full swing - all show and no substance with absolutely no detail thought process on its implication.

    Again we have to witness the death throws of a government (non party political) who knows it is completely out of touch with the majority of the population and desperately wants to find a reason for somebody to love it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 671.

    Use Crook-U-Sol. Dissolves burglars in one easy spraying action.Available in most stores now.

  • rate this

    Comment number 670.

    Burglars deserve anything which is dished out to them. I have no sympathy with them whatsoever no matter how much a householder "over-reacts". And, bring in the vigilantes, I say. The police don't seem to be able or willing to deal with these crimes as they should.

  • rate this

    Comment number 669.

    I am one of the few, if only person on this thread who has actually caught a burglar, and detained him until the police arrived. These suggestions are motivated by ignorance of the law, and whipped up hysteria based on a few extreme cases. Inventing a legal concept of 'bad in the cold light of day, but seemed reasonable at the time' is nonsensical, and dangerous.If law is unclear clarify it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 668.

    As a homeowner I am delighted that we can now tackle would-be burglars using 'reasonable force' with impunity....for too long the law has given burglars greater protection than the law-abiding citizens they perceive to rob and terrorise in their own homes.

  • rate this

    Comment number 667.

    @594 If burglar is teenage druggy then really shouldn't take a lot for me to scare him off/apprehend him,given that I am 6'6 and 17 stone.I don't see this change as a right to beat the crap out of burglars but it backs up my natural instinct to do what I deem necessary.If I shout and he runs great,job done.If he wants to mix it then game on too.Once he is out of my house or on the floor I'll stop.

  • rate this

    Comment number 666.

    "I remember the case of Mr Martin. He was a victim of a stream of persistent criminals with his address in their little black books."

    Then you'll remember a jury of his peers found him guilty of murder.
    He'd lay in wait, with an illegal shotgun(his licence had been revoked for threatening his neighbours) and shot them in the back as they were running away.

  • rate this

    Comment number 665.

    If the problem arose in my home or on my property, then I would defend myself, my family and my property with whatever came to hand. At the end of the day I would rather be tried by 12 than carried by 6.

  • rate this

    Comment number 664.

    653. The Academy
    To shoot somebody running away from you after they have burgled you is not necessarily murder. If you have been attacked, had a gun stuck in your mouth and are pumped full of adrenalin you see red mist. It does not mean you have murdered somebody to then shoot them. It means you are terrified, full of immense anger and you want to stop that person who has offended you so badly.

  • rate this

    Comment number 663.

    Sad states of affairs when in 2012, the Prime Minister announces that householders do not know what to do, if confronted by a burglar... what are people/firms paying your wages for Cameron...and to all MP' are there to provide LAWS to protect all in this country...but all you do is mess things up, in all walks of life.

  • rate this

    Comment number 662.

    By popular demand.

    Changing the word "reasonable" force to "grossly disproportionate", gives the police, CPS, courts much clearly understanding and shifts the boundary in favour of the good against the forces of evil.

    Keep it up.

  • rate this

    Comment number 661.

    644. How is it a "shift"? Nothing has changed. The Tories are using a tabloid myth (that the law is against the victims of crime - obvious guff) in a older-than-dirt ploy to make the voter think they've been given something.

    It's not that I think that it will turn everyone into vigilantes; but the occasional instance of someone thinking they can get away with murder is ALL that will change.

  • rate this

    Comment number 660.

    This does not promote vigilantism, it just clarifies what a person is allowed to do to protect themselves, their property and other people. The argument will be what is regarded as proportionate under the circumstances and any genuine belief held by the occupant of the house.

  • rate this

    Comment number 659.

    Fact those states that allow householders to shoot a burglar have much fewer break ins."

    That's simplistic. The states that do that also tend to be rural states with low population densities. Crime, and violent crime, is much higher in (say) Houston than the rest of Texas and actually much higher than New York City.

  • rate this

    Comment number 658.

    Look everyone, look at this!!!! No no don't look at the banks, never mind the screw ups over public procurement, don't look at those wealthy tax avoiders, NHS privatisation, schools or our flailing chancellor. Look at this...BOGEY MEN er I mean burglars and benefit cheats.

    Well played Mr. Cameron you have the frightened sheep lapping the ambrosia from your cupped hands once again.

  • rate this

    Comment number 657.

    Even the fact we are talking about wanting vigilaties means there is a failure somewhere. We have a police force paid by our tax that should protect us and prevent crime, if we need vigilaties to do this role our government is failing us. If I cant sleep at night without a baseball bat nearby to protect myself in my own home there is also a failure.

  • rate this

    Comment number 656.

    If you desire to make a comparison with prohibition, it may be more relevant to mention prohibition of drugs, since a lot of crime is as a result of prohibition. I'm thinking of the serious gang violence and turf wars in the big cities which mirrors what occured during prohibition. Violence should never be glorified.


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