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 755.

    Tony Martin taped a torch to the barrels of his shot gun and lay in wait for intruders. His actions were classed as premeditated, in other words he was not simply defending himself he had planned to shot whoever came in and made sure he could see to be able to do it. A different scenario completely.

  • rate this

    Comment number 754.

    Conference season is upon us.
    Tory's hoping for a good press no doubt.

    And this is precisely why politicians of every persuasion curry favour with the likes of Murdoch.

    Crackpot ideas without a snowball in hells chance of making it to the statute book allow other idiotic ideas to be floated.

    And they do get to the book.

    Importance of the 4th estate.
    And managed sound bites.

    It makes sense?

  • rate this

    Comment number 753.


    Give it a rest mate, you'd think we were in Rwanda. Even with the cuts we'll still be spending £100bn on welfare. No benefits have been scrapped. No state education has been removed. Healthcare hasn't been abandoned. You're just resorting to hysteria to make a point you don't have.

  • rate this

    Comment number 752.

    738. UncommonSense
    Martin has been mentioned. Interested to know if these circs would not be grossly disproportionate under the 'new' guidance anyway: as far as I'm aware the intruders were fleeing

    Police's own crime figures show that if a house is broken into once it is far more likely to be broken into again. Shooting a scumbag in the back could be regarded as a sensible preventative measure.

  • rate this

    Comment number 751.

    #745 Thats my point. Most people would pick up a lamp/bat (I actually keep something a bit nastier under the bed hoping it has deterent value). What most people would do is almost by definition 'reasonable'. Incidentally in the unlikely event anyone is tried for killing an intruder & I'm on your jury I'd state that 4-5 whacks is reasonable and vote not guilty. I think most others would too.

  • rate this

    Comment number 750.

    @696. E_Ernie
    Yes, the previous Govt have not been in power for over 2 years, however, previous mistakes must be rectified, worked on or alternative solutions brought to bear before people and societies can move forward. No Govt can dictate what they really inherit and it shows as disrespect from previous Govt in that they will rarely accept any responsibility for their own prior actions.

  • rate this

    Comment number 749.

    @676 How many householders are suddenly going to get guns? So why would burglars need to suddenly get them? And most burglars will actively avoid any confrontation or even the slightest obstacle. Even things like window locks have shown to actively discourage. As things stand, burglars will try and avoid having to deal with the homeowner, so this can only strengthen that instinct.

  • rate this

    Comment number 748.

    How on Earth can you prove that an intruder was running away??? Given the long-lasting mental health effects that burglary and crime in general has on those on the receiving end, the risk is entirely on the criminal's head. Plus, I doubt that anyone in the position of dealing with a burglar or other intruder is going to give a moment's thought for the criminal's future rehabilitation...

  • rate this

    Comment number 747.

    Opponents want to discourage vigilantism do they?
    In this age of inadequate Police resources and the European Court of Criminals Rights, vigilantism is about the only protection home owners have!

  • rate this

    Comment number 746.

    This country is not exactly overrun with people who invite burglars into their homes with the sole intent of killing them so the solution is simple-

    Burglars have no rights unless they are running away and well away from the property when attacked by a homeowner.

  • rate this

    Comment number 745.

    Peter syms, most in UK don't have assault rifles. Most would pick up a lamp/bat. Adrenaline rush, you might hit guy 4-5 times before yr head controls the fight instinct. Is the first blow reasonable? Or the 4-5 which killed him unreasonable?
    Personally, 4-5 I would still consider reasonable. It's instinct to defend & yr blood pumping, you keep swinging till yr sure he won't get up & attack you.

  • rate this

    Comment number 744.

    Kind of ironic that Cameron was a member of the Bullington Club at Oxford - especially with its reputation for outlandish drinking culture associated with boisterous behaviour and damaging property.

  • rate this

    Comment number 743.

    There are always going to be opponents siding with criminals in case we 'hurt' them while trying to protect our homes, families and livelihoods. Yes, it would be wrong to go all 'vigilante' on criminals, but if you are woken up by someone breaking into your home, you are going to react. The law should be 100% on the side of the victim of crime, even if a criminal gets killed during defence.

  • rate this

    Comment number 742.

    By jingo the tea party politics are now in full swing now, we can all just forget about the economy back peddling and the defecit getting bigger.

  • Comment number 741.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 740.

    'Householders who over-react when confronted by burglars are to get more legal protection', sorry if you are defending YOUR home, family and property against scumbag burglars then surely how can any action you take be consider as over-reaction?

  • rate this

    Comment number 739.

    The Tory Conference is proving to be nothing short of a Nuremberg Rally.
    I understand there was also an Anti Gay Marriage Demo last night.And after Gideons speech the jubilant scenes reminded me of that scene in Pink Floys's film the Wall where Bob Geldof was going to tell us all where we really stand...." Run , run , run run run run ' '..."

  • rate this

    Comment number 738.

    Disclaimer: bleeding heart liberal comment impending.

    More evidence of how this party, and, ergo, this government, is moving further to the right. Another gimmick to placate those backbenchers of the UKIP inclination ;)

    Martin has been mentioned. Interested to know if these circs would not be grossly disproportionate under the 'new' guidance anyway: as far as I'm aware the intruders were fleeing

  • rate this

    Comment number 737.

    @ 717.DurhamGuy

    "It will provide a real deterrent to burglars.

    The burglary rate will tumble."

    I don't believe burglars give a moments thought about any law or any feeling towards their victims so burglary rates may not come down but it will empower us to defend ourselves without fear of criminal prosecution when we do (except in extreme circumstances).

  • rate this

    Comment number 736.

    Common sense tells you when a burglar is a burglar
    for instance when someone breaks into your house in the dead of night and starts taking your things without your permission .
    are you people seriously telling me that if someone was robbing you of all your belongings you d stand back and watch because you wouldnt want to hurt him. if someone breaks in then they must be prepared for a fight.


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