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 695.

    @237.Shaunie Babes

    Can any of the vigilantes on here name a single case where someone engaged in legitimate self defence (ie "not teaching someone a lesson") has ever been convicted

    Possibly not, but they have certainly been arrested, which is itself a form of punishment (ask anyone who has ever had to travel to the USA, who needs a visa if they've ever been arrested !)

  • rate this

    Comment number 694.

    Very straight forward: You come into my house without my permission and I'm there, you die.

    Don't break the law and expect to hide behind it when threatened. You got a better chance playing lotto.

  • rate this

    Comment number 693.

    I am a mother of two children. Both under the age of 2. If an intruder was to come into my home and i was unsure of their intentions in being there i would think as any parent would and protect my family. And i would fight to my death to keep them safe. Why would i care what consiquences andintruders actions would have where my family is involved. They didnt think of mine.

  • rate this

    Comment number 692.

    Chris Grayling "........ and the public should be in no doubt that the law is on their side. "

    It is just as important that the criminals know that the law is definitely not on their side, and remove their right to sue any homeowner who may injure them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 691.

    Burglary is a different offence to simple theft.There are psychological consequences for victims, often feeling invaded, insecure and helpless may lead onto depression. Anger we might feel against intruders has little outlet at present but physical force cannot be the only answer. Don't prosecute people who lash out but don't encourage retaliation which can go wrong. This change is not sufficient.

  • rate this

    Comment number 690.

    We could do worse than to emulate the Swiss in their gun control & political structure models"

    Are you proposing to bring in universal male military service then? Hardly "small government" and an exemplar of personal freedom now is it? The political structure is deliberately designed to stop any ethnic, linguistic or religious group dominating government. Not a model most could copy.

  • rate this

    Comment number 689.

    664: True it can be reclassified as manslaughter following political pressure. In the case of Mr Martin he wasn't defending himself he was as you rightly point out seeing red. He wanted revenge for all those burglaries. He wasn't in fear for his life he wanted to get them back. And that really is my last post I'm not getting drawn back in like Al Pacino!

  • rate this

    Comment number 688.

    Too many people leaving comments who, quite simply, don't understand the law. The proposals add nothing to what is already in place. It is simply the Tories acting "tough" during conference season. Amazing that people can't see that, but I guess the ability to think critically isn't something that is valued much any more, unlike the ability to emote at the drop of a hat. More smoke and mirrors!

  • rate this

    Comment number 687.

    515.Underclass Underdog
    "have you been around any of the many sink hole estates in this country recently? Had the displeasure of travelling through towns like Burnley, Blackburn , or Bolton? If they aren't third world ghettos, I don't know what is."

    Oh, I don't know: Bolton's quite nice! Knocks the spots off Milton Keynes (sorry: "MK") any day.

  • rate this

    Comment number 686.

    In 19th Century London Burglars and other thieves could face hefty periods at Hard Labour, Deportation and Even the Death Penalty.Home owners were allowed weapons,there was no gun control and few legal rights. The Murder rate was 4 times the current level.

    Statistics are patchy but suggest the Burglary rate was 6 times the current level and there were at least 50,000 Active Burglars.

  • rate this

    Comment number 685.

    Am welcoming proposed this law-change.

    Life. It's all about choices, isn't it?

    If Dave Burglar makes his, I am prepared to make mine.

    It's a jungle out there.

  • rate this

    Comment number 684.

    I don't care what the law says, now or later. I WILL do everything in my power, whatever the consequences, to ensure that they understand, that they may have broken into my home once, but they'd have to think long and hard about doing it a second time.

  • rate this

    Comment number 683.

    @656. BAmberGas
    If you read @624, I do mention the prohibition on drugs, & its effects identical to the acknowledged failed policy of prohibition of alcohol. Prohibition always causes the same greater problems than it purports to solve. Prohibition doesn't work as a general rule.

  • rate this

    Comment number 682.

    Dear lefties. Look at the positively recommended comments and the negatively rated ones. Still think you represent the view of "the people"???

  • rate this

    Comment number 681.

    Shoot the burglars- probably benefit scroungers anyway. A (rich) Englishman's home is his fortress... same old Tory guff. The sole growth industry soon will be burglary - and weapons sales to burglars. While Comical Ali Cameron says the economy is 'rebalancing', Osborne is working out how to grind the poor and take workers' rights. The debt grows, more cuts. More destitution=more burglary Nasty!

  • Comment number 680.

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

  • Comment number 679.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 678.

    652. Bastiat
    Guns should always be legal.

    In case you weren't aware, they are. We just have controls to make sure that they're used for the right reasons (eg sport) by people who have been vetted and invariably trained in gun safety. Gun trigger fools is the last thing we need. I assume you don't have a gun license?

  • rate this

    Comment number 677.

    The basic problem that we are suffering from is that the bad guys are not being locked up for long enough, this together with the award of concurrent instead of consecutive sentences is the root of our society’s problem.

  • rate this

    Comment number 676.

    all very well,but why do you think the police are so reluctant to take up arms?if criminals think every homeowner is going to try and kill them,what do you think they will do,ill tell you they will arm themselves.most burglars will try and escape at present and dont want confrontation.i personally dont want the burdon of killing a burglar.


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