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 795.

    If an intruder intends to use severe violence then that is what they will do. Facing an intruder in your house is not a normal situation nor one you can prepare yourself for. Normal rational people can become very violent and irrational in the face of such danger. Should they then be punished for that? No and this what the politicians and judges fully realise. Hence the change in the law.

  • rate this

    Comment number 794.

    As a victim of burglary in the past, when the scum are in your house, you don't give 2 hoots about what you are/aren't allowed to do. You do all you can to protect your family and property. I did. The police didn't arrest me. They thanked me for 'apprehending' the so & so.

  • rate this

    Comment number 793.

    @755 'Tio Terry'
    You make a valid point. However, Mr Martin did not invite these burglars/intruders into his home - they consistently broke into his home, over many years, and he reached the end of his tether.

    I suggest that Tony Martin was desparate and the local police could have helped him to install alarms, but merely regarded him as eccentric as do many in narrow-minded small communities

  • rate this

    Comment number 792.

    You can't solve crime, by causing it. Just like you can't dis-encourage benefits claimant's from trying not to starve by implementing vicious cuts that put them out of work, and on the dole.

    If a burglar breaks into a house, he is committing a crime, therefore the LAW should be around to deal with him, not you. If you attack said burglar,you too are breaking the law. And should be dealt with.

  • rate this

    Comment number 791.

    Libertarians come from a perspective of freedom. Freedom from Govt regulations in my life, my house & in a private contract between me & my neighbour, it's immoral. I don't blame Govt for a Bad business going bust. I blame Govt bailing out Bad businesses (eg banks) with my £s. You want Govt to regulate us more, I don't.
    Slavery is uneconomical & particularly immoral fyi.

  • rate this

    Comment number 790.

    The burglar should lose any rights as soon as they enter your property and should accept whatever they get as a result. I don't know if that person is armed or what so I will immobalise as quickly as possible and for long enough for the police to arrive.If that means forcefully then so be it. I know it's grey area, but let's at least feel safe at home knowing there won't be repercussions for us.

  • rate this

    Comment number 789.

    This is an acknowledgement that their cuts to the police force are having an effect on their ability to help the public. This is tacit approval of taking matters in to your own hands because they know the police can't/ won't respond to reports of burglary in time to actually catch the culprit or protect the home owner.

  • rate this

    Comment number 788.

    @ 733.Bradford

    "Penal colonies on remote Islands anyone ?"

    Then in a couple of hundred years people would rather live there than in the UK. (see Australia for details..)

    It would have to be the most rank, uninhabitable place on the planet to make it worth while. But still then, faeces floats, they wouldn't have any trouble swimming back.

  • rate this

    Comment number 787.

    I think this is a sensible thing and one of the few good things the government has done. Shame they don't do more sensible things like hold referendums on whether the country should go to war for example...

  • rate this

    Comment number 786.

    So now it's OK to shoot squatters

    Meanwhile, haven't the tories got anything better to do ?

  • rate this

    Comment number 785.

    I dont think any action is an over-reaction when a burglar enters your home!!
    We should be allowed to defend our homes however we see fit.
    Maybe burglars would be put off if they knew they were in for a hiding if they tried to break-in to someone home.... and that is the way it should be.
    It's my castle, and I will fight for it to the death if I have to.

  • rate this

    Comment number 784.

    766. Bastiat

    Again I say, this is the UK not USA. We don't have armed police or firearms freely availably for any right wing nut group or religious cult, to buy at the drop of a hat. Its the UK. Sorry but you'll never get it will you? I feel sorry for you and the saddest thing is you think the USA is the most advanced society in the world.

  • rate this

    Comment number 783.

    This is just populist red meat for the right wing press and the thin sliver of society who don't see party conferences for the side-show they are.

    A jury is perfectly able to decide whether a defendant acted reasonably in the circumstances.

  • rate this

    Comment number 782.

    748. stereo_smiles
    How on Earth can you prove that an intruder was running away???
    A shotgun spread widens by 1" for every yard the shot travels. If an intruder has a 10" hole in their back it shows they were shot from 10 yards away while facing away from the shooter.

    If Tony Martin appreciated such basic forensics he might have told slightly fewer porkies in his initial police interview.

  • rate this

    Comment number 781.

    Fancy informing burglars to use extra violence in their activities, what a great idea, thanks for that.
    I already knew I could use grossly disproportionate violence thank you, I didn't need anybody to tell me that, I have two hands and a mind to use them.

    Now you've told burglars to come prepared I have to make more preparations of my own. Well done. Thank you very much indeed.

  • rate this

    Comment number 780.

    Personally, I would like to think that the law would be on my side if I am ever unfortuante to be in a position where I am defending my home and my loved ones.

    However, with every new idea you have to both consider the pro's and the con's.

    There are many posts on here supporting the pro's.

    So, what about the con's? Are there any? And if so, what are they?

  • rate this

    Comment number 779.

    I hope Health & Safety officers don't fall on the side of criminals when they judge it wasn't properly safe for a criminal to enter a property...

    But in all seriousness, it is up to the householder to decide on the level of force deemed appropriate to protect his family and property. He didn't ask to be burgled.

  • rate this

    Comment number 778.

    @755 Whether he planned to defend his property or it was spontaneous, he is still DEFENDING HIS PROPERTY.
    @680 Great point. Talk of bankers stealing from the country, ignores the hundreds of thousands of people happy to sit at home smoking fags, drinking, watching Sky TV with not an intention of trying to improve their situation.Not all the unemployed are genuine people desperate to work!

  • rate this

    Comment number 777.


  • Comment number 776.

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


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