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 715.

    1. The householder should be able to assume the burglar has a weapon (bat, knife, screwdriver etc) and use force appropriate to that
    2. The householder should not be arrested first and then investigated. Investigate first and then arrest if needed.
    3. The householder should not be put on police bail until after any investigation.

    That's OK then
    All of these rights already exist .

  • rate this

    Comment number 714.

    "Surely it would have been more appropriate to change the law in terms of viewing what is 'reasonable force' given a particular circumstance..."


    So Burglar Bill will know he has only to withstand the 'statutory 3 panicky swings of a fist'; whereafter he can continue to attack you and rob you while you are powerless for fear of exceeding the law of 'reasonable force'.

  • rate this

    Comment number 713.

    My licence lapsed since moving to the city years ago. You can have the guns Govt allows you. No more. You're only allowed to have those guns in the Govt approved areas. If you're in Aurora Colorado for eg, a Govt gun free zone, people are made defenceless by law. Criminals don't obey the law. I moderate it to semi-auto but libertarianism has no restriction on protection.

  • rate this

    Comment number 712.

    This will make no difference to the law as it stands now. What is REASONABLE in dealing with a burglar can ALREADY INCLUDE over-reaction through fear, AND the use of weapons.

    This is Law and Order posturing. Changing the wording won't change the end result, and it won't make anyone safer. BUT it might gain a few Tory votes from people who misunderstand the current law.

  • rate this

    Comment number 711.

    Numbers of break-ins in Northern Ireland are a lot less per population compared to Eng/Scot.
    This is because of the paramiltaries. They punish beat and shot the criminals (usually before the police get a hold of them, or after their court case).
    Violence against criminals is a deterant. It's proven over here.

  • rate this

    Comment number 710.

    @ 697.Yours In Sisterhood
    "I hope the same theory of "red mist" and getting away with it applies if the wife finds her husband in bed with another woman. Just a thought"

    Adultery is not the same as burglary so it is not covered. It is afterall, your husbands choice to go with another woman and vice versa. Your comment hints that you are a 'scorned' woman?

  • rate this

    Comment number 709.

    @666 'LeftLibertarian'
    Well, if Tony Martin didn't have persistent criminals breaking into his home, why would he need to lay in wait for them. If they stopped breaking in they wouldn't be dead would they?

  • rate this

    Comment number 708.

    It will still be unclear exactly what you can or can't do to defend your home. How does this help?

  • rate this

    Comment number 707.

    In a world where sick perverts rape and murder five year old girls, just what could I do to a burglar (and possible paedophile murderer) that is "grossly disproportionate"?

  • rate this

    Comment number 706.

    I would like to see any of those tory toffs like Gideon or jeremy hit any burglar with anything than the palm of their hand whilst quivering and saying please sir i didnt mean to do it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 705.

    If burglars and the like were given proper sentences with hard labour boot camp style the problem may be reduced. also a 5 year sentence should be 5 years no time off for good behaviour.

  • rate this

    Comment number 704.

    "comment text is empty"
    No it's not, is this a case of the beeb trying to censor my opinion because it doesn't match their Tory agenda?

  • Comment number 703.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 702.

    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"

    How could they, they've been bombarded with misinformation by the tabloids for years. Why else would half of them seem convinced that a burglar can sue you for yelling at them or something?

  • rate this

    Comment number 701.

    Lots of macho talk on here today.
    If you are big, strong, lucky, angry enough to defeat a burglar good luck to you.
    Are you all sure you will still be able to at 65, 75, 85, 95 years old?
    Society should ensure punishment that is severe enough to prove an effective deterrent.
    Do-gooders, human rights, wet judges, pathetic politicians are the problem.

  • rate this

    Comment number 700.

    Thanks for that acknowledgement, I do however believe that the discussion is somewhat different when talking about weapons and specifically privately owned guns. Drugs/alcohol may be the cause of crimes but guns are frequently used in the performing of crimes. Or to put it differently legalise drugs and crime would decrease, legalise guns and murder would almost certainly increase.

  • rate this

    Comment number 699.

    Its a hard one to call. Any offence against the person/property should, morally, disqualify the perpetrator from the legal protection that would normally exist. However, we have to consider whether this would actually act as a deterrant to those desperate enough to commit the offence in the first place.

  • rate this

    Comment number 698.

    3 Hours ago
    "If you're in the process of committing a crime, you should have no protection whatsoever under law"

    Should this include people committing the criminal offence of driving at 71 mph in a 70 mph limit? Would alow police to shoot speeders on sight.

  • rate this

    Comment number 697.

    I hope the same theory of "red mist" and getting away with it applies if the wife finds her husband in bed with another woman. Just a thought

  • rate this

    Comment number 696.

    Dear Righies, Labour have not been in power for 2 years now. The current mess we are in is due to the current government or are they so incompitent they are obsessed with the past rather than trying to govern the present?


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