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 635.

    In the 13 century a child could be put on a ducking stool and killed
    for taking food for their hunger . so beware . i am sure the bankers that put this generation of kids on the poor list would have the same should they dare enter their homes !!

  • rate this

    Comment number 634.

    Questions for clarification as every case will be different.

    When is a burglar actually a burglar - can it be before he gains access to the property by coming through a gate for example?

    Who decides what "over reaction" means in each case?

    What in law is "disproportionate" because surely that can only be assumed by the state of mind of the householder at the actual time of the burglary.

  • rate this

    Comment number 633.

    618.Trout Mask Replica
    591. Cheddy
    Problem is some vigilantes can't tell the difference between a burglar and a motorist seeking help.
    Motorist probably wouldnt kick your door in and hold a knife to your throat before asking you to call the AA

  • rate this

    Comment number 632.

    I assume you sent in your comment 'tongue in cheek'. Nobody could have that attitude and be a. normal and b. a householder. The only way burglars could reintegrate into society is by stopping burgling and, probably, by stopping drug misuse.

  • rate this

    Comment number 631.

    Let's not forget the victims, and not those of violence. After a break-in at our house when I was a child (too young to understand) my Dad, a fit, able, and an educated and balanced individual, 'slept' by the back door for nights afterwards with his cricket bat (that he used to play) at his side, because he feared for the safety of his wife and young children.

  • rate this

    Comment number 630.

    Well- this is keeping our minds off the austerity being placed upon us isn't it?

    Why is Parliament left in suspension why the parties talk to themselves- the MPs have had their holiday and soon they will be off for Christmas!!Perhaps we only need the HOL - that will save some money.

  • rate this

    Comment number 629.

    @554 'The Academy'
    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.

    Some people reach the end of their tether in different ways. The right to live in peace appears to be a crime according to some.

    Plus, yobs beat a father to death for challenging them on attacking his wife's car. Let's not forget him either.

  • rate this

    Comment number 628.

    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.
    It means there is a chance the Burglar can sue the homeowner for damages.
    It means not only is the homeowner and his family traumatized by the event but they are financially out of pocket and possibly become criminals.

  • rate this

    Comment number 627.

    I wonder what it takes to scare David Cameron off?

  • rate this

    Comment number 626.

    All sounds well and good from the Torys but reading between the lines are they trying to justify cutting the police by not prosecuting us for defending ourselves? It smacks as political guff to me, if they really wanted to make a difference why dont they propose a law that states if somebody is commiting a crime on someone elses property they forfeit any rights to sue or claim for personal injury?

  • rate this

    Comment number 625.

    Does this mean I can keep a baseball bat by the bed and use it against an intruder?

  • rate this

    Comment number 624.

    Gun control advocates are much like the prohibitionists of the 1920s. By making liquor illegal, they spawned organized crime, caused bloody, violent turf wars & corrupted the criminal justice system. Today's war on drugs has exactly the same results. Guns should always be legal. Burglars always on notice, you may not walk out of that house you rob tonight.

  • rate this

    Comment number 623.

    If someone has broken into my house and my family are there. It becomes a simple choice, the original hard wired into the core of our brain of fight or flight reaction. As i would rather die than let my children suffer, I cannot be held responsible for my actions/over reactions or not.

    Don't break into my house and this confrontation will never happen.

  • rate this

    Comment number 622.

    people who do add security measures to their home should receive a large grant from the government towards the cost

    =>Absolutely. Politicians and police have made crime prevention a huge social cost. It's up to us householders to spend on defences to our properties and selves, huh, as long as we don't hurt burglars or housebreakers.

  • rate this

    Comment number 621.

    @598. Jim

    Tony Martin shot the guy in the back!...with an illegal firearm!! how can you possibly say that was justified and reasonable??

    Protect your family & property from a perceived threat by all means, but murder is murder

  • rate this

    Comment number 620.

    582. "The pattern of negative and positive ratings tells of a few mischief-makers and many burglars posting on this HYS."

    Disagreeing with you is not "mischief making". What an arrogant comment.

    While the law already protects people's right to defend themselves, sanctioning violent revenge sets a bad precedent. You don't have to be a burglar to appreciate that.

  • rate this

    Comment number 619.

    Long, long overdue, finely those awful words that nobody, but nobody ever understood, "reasonable force" is consigned to the heap. We have been dumb` d down by the apologizers of these vile people for years over those words. Who ever thought that one up obviously lives in their ivory towers cocooned from the burglar. Well done the Tories, Squatters out, burglars the boot now and how.

  • rate this

    Comment number 618.

    Again, I cite Switzerland as a great eg."

    The only example Switzerland is good for is for the Swiss. It's entirely different history, culture, social structures etc are not models anyone else has emulated. There is a reason there is the word "cantonised" in the vocabulary.

    591. Cheddy

    Problem is some vigilantes can't tell the difference between a burglar and a motorist seeking help.

  • rate this

    Comment number 617.

    What I don't understand is why, when we hear of someone being convicted for stealing £100 of lead from a roof, (but causing £250k worth of water damage in the process) an order to recover as much as possible from the thief/criminal damager is not also imposed.

    They are not all poor, and neither are the dealers who knowingly handle it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 616.


    Do I read from your missive that burglars are Right Wingers.
    For no Lily Livered lefty would dare to enter someones property in case they got hurt.


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