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 735.

    I'm libertarian & forced service is tantamount to slavery. I approved Swiss gun laws & political structure, not all their laws. The UK is much worse, Centralised Westminster: a posh white male club from Oxford & Cambridge. We are leading the way in representation. Don't forget our Bishops & hereditary Lords who get a seat in Parliament too.

  • rate this

    Comment number 734.

    With everything falling round its ears, the worst government since WW2 wants a populist fringe measure that affects such a tiny number of cases as to be totally irrelevant to try and win favour with the hang 'em, flog 'em and shoot 'em brigade. Will this improve the economy? No. And what if you kill a burglar with an illegally held weapon - which people will now see as their right to have.

  • rate this

    Comment number 733.


    Now the Conservatives need to find a solution / suitable punishment for the low lifes, who cannot be fined (because they are on benefits), cannot be given asbos because they are shameless, cannot be put in prison because the prisons are full.

    Penal colonies on remote Islands anyone ?

  • Comment number 732.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 731.

    Laughing at the Tory soft toffs comments. I vote conservative. I'm also a keen weightlifter and ex thai boxer. We don't all have limp wrists you know.

  • rate this

    Comment number 730.

    Burgulars are a straight attack on society.
    As such it is perfectly fine for society to attack them back.
    You steal my security, I steal your ability to have kneecaps.

  • rate this

    Comment number 729.

    This legislation shouldn't end in the home. It should cover yourself, family and belongings, wherever you are. If some scumbag has no quarms about assaulting me to take my phone, I won't think twice about giving him that phone as a suppository. The police are useless, courts farcical, criminals always win. A little rough justice doled out by the hand of the victim is poetic, and a real deterrant.

  • rate this

    Comment number 728.

    Bastiat: You appear to reject any evidence that conflicts with your world view that a libertarian, unfettered free market solves all known problems, and blame governments when a private business fails. Any evidence that governments can do good for society is rejected on the grounds the free market would have done better. You see no value in anything society does unless it has a market price.

  • rate this

    Comment number 727.

    You are right,prison sentences should be far more severe and offenders should serve the full number of years designated by the court.Prisoners should be made to work hard and not be given anything but the basics of survival.

  • rate this

    Comment number 726.

    Is it just me or is this just another smoke screen to cover the mess the economy is in? Burglary is apparently at the lowest level for years so while it is a horrible experience for those that go through it its hardly a burning issue epsecially as the majority of house breaking does not result in a violent confrontation. The lastest economic news from the IMF is what they should be discussing.

  • rate this

    Comment number 725.

    These ideas can lead to an escalation of violence on both sides.

    If you let householders use more violence to protect themselves and their property, then the nasty people will start using more violence to rob them.

    A balance has to be struck which is best left to the courts and police, and not a bunch of politicians trying to score cheap sound bites.

  • rate this

    Comment number 724.

    QUOTE: "between 1990 and 2005 there were just 11 prosecutions for people tackling intruders in any premises, including seven involving homes"
    1. So basically a totally pointless yet politically motivated change in legislation.
    2. If I was a burglar, I would now go armed as the stakes have been raised...Is that what you want...cos that's what'll happen!

  • rate this

    Comment number 723.

    #718 If you use a table lamp to kill an intruder the chances of you being prosecuted are already lottery-odds long. Even then the jury will aquit if the CPS are stupid enough to bring a case.

    Its the people here demanding the right to use fully automatic assault weapons to gun down thieves who are trying to run away which is why we needed a law stating 'REASONABLE' force in the first place.

  • rate this

    Comment number 722.

    713. Bastiat

    We're talking about the UK not USA

  • rate this

    Comment number 721.

    Except for the organised and professional criminals who go armed and target wealthy homes most burglaries are committed opportunistically by drug addicts. People can protect themselves by taking precautions. This is just more waffle and tinkering by politicians trying to look and sound tough in the hope of gaining popular support. They don't REALLY give a damn!

  • rate this

    Comment number 720.

    If someone breaks into our house (of Commons) and steals our property (the NHS) why shouldn't they expect to be met with force?

  • rate this

    Comment number 719.

    You can currently use proprtionate force this is a typical Tory distratction technique. Throw in something populist, never mind that it already exists, pretend you making things better for the householder, distract us from the fact that whilst announcing further cuts to benefits he ruled out the Mansion tax and failed to announce any policies reflecting that affect his rich pals!

  • rate this

    Comment number 718.

    People saying, response from the homeowner should be fair & reasonable, just think, it's 3am, yr wife & kids asleep, you hear an intruder, yr frightened for yr family, yr blood pressure & pulse rate go skyhigh, yr body releases adrenaline, you creep thru the house come face to face & you REACT, that lamp you picked up is smashed down on his head & kills him. Is that reasonable? I think so.

  • rate this

    Comment number 717.

    It will provide a real deterrent to burglars.

    The burglary rate will tumble.

  • rate this

    Comment number 716.

    Someone breaks into my house I will make sure they can't get up and hurt my family that's for dam sure I go down for murder so be it at least I was protecting family and my self


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