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 835.

    This clarifies nothing.

    Next debate will be whether the burglar you just killed was actually a burglar or an innocent trick-or-treater.

  • rate this

    Comment number 834.

    If you deliberately break the law it leads to you loosing some of your normal human rights (ie freedom). I think not being attacked by someone you are trying to do over is one of those rights you should lose.
    This would lead the courts to decide on whether someone entered unlawfully and deliberatly. If you attack an intruder you would then need to be sure they are there knowingly.

  • rate this

    Comment number 833.

    Any burglar is a potential rapist and killer. When can a householder decide if the criminal being dealt with is nice or nasty before taking action? After they have been raped, beaten unconscious or killed?

    Sure, it shouldn't be legal to shoot an intruder simply because they are trespassing, but laws that overprotect criminals do little to discourage them. These changes are long overdue.

  • rate this

    Comment number 832.

    This is a non-story - the bloke I caught got 6 months and a headache).

    Some will now get carried away, and I for one am not going to risk going to a neighbours who I believe is away if I hear a disturbance - apologizing for whacking me over the head with a cricket bat by mistake isn't going to suffice.

    That doesn't happen? Oh yes it does...

  • rate this

    Comment number 831.

    I think I will invite the obnoxious person four doors down who I dislike intensely round for a drink

    I can then bash him over the head, making sure I kill him, and tell the police he was an intruder.

    And it’s all legal

  • rate this

    Comment number 830.

    A baseball bat is not a precision instrument. One hit may only make it irritated, one hit may also crush its skull. It might wish to take the bat from me and hit me. Can I relax, knowing that the law prevents it from hitting me too hard? The most likely scenario is that I would surprise it from behind. Is it OK to kill it with surprise or should I provide it with a letter of intent?

  • rate this

    Comment number 829.

    I do wish the overpaid BBC clowns who read the News would stop saying that the law is being reviewed to protect homeowners who attack burglars.It is the burglars who are doing the attacking,the homeowners are doing the defending.

  • rate this

    Comment number 828.

    803. Cheddy
    You can't run a society by having one law for one person, another law for somebody else. The law should be concrete, regardless of victim, or perp status. If the victim of burglary breaks the law by bashing a thug's head, and causing manslaughter, then the victim is no longer a victim, any more. They are then, a perpetrator, of crime. Just as the burglar is. And the law be enforced.

  • rate this

    Comment number 827.

    I never said USA was the most advanced society in the world. I certainly don't think the UK is either. It's a shame that you can't understand the concept of liberty nor acknowledge a man who knew a lot more about gun laws than you or I, Thomas Jefferson. But of course, you're an armchair philosopher with a gun licence who's well versed in telling others how to live their lives.

  • rate this

    Comment number 826.

    792 "If you attack said burglar,you too are breaking the law. And should be dealt with"

    Utter drivel - factually, legally and morally incorrect.

  • rate this

    Comment number 825.

    A step in the right direction, but as other commenters have pointed out, tackling a burglar isn't without its risks.

    Legalizing protecting homes with booby traps would have been a better idea; householders wouldn't need to confront possibly armed intruders, and the home would also be protected when the householders are absent.

  • rate this

    Comment number 824.

    Ridiculous - the law as it stands is perfectly adequate and each case is tried on the evidence presented.

    If you start moving the goalposts and legitimising violence even if in self defence, going equipped will become going "better" equipped and everything goes on the decline to anarchy.

    It is surely better to clear up after a burglary than going to a inquest/funeral.

  • rate this

    Comment number 823.

    741. scirop
    Could someone please explain what Labour did to this country while he'she was asleep.

    They gave us a society that gave my kids health, schools and employment opportunities I couldn't dream of at the same ages under Thatcher, gave us almost zero inflation, new cars and plasma TVs, ended the NI troubles; gave us all our lives back.
    Then the Tories' banker friends messed it all up .

  • rate this

    Comment number 822.

    Someone breaks in then they should forfeit any rights in law. Clatter him with a bat ? Tough. Any claim they make shouldn't be entertained.

  • rate this

    Comment number 821.

    We have fallen in to a situation in this country where we have lost the will or confidence to protect ourselves. We all stand idly by while crimes get committed waiting for the police. It took an old lady with a handbag to stop a smash and grab raid as everyone else just watched.

    The protection of you and your property should fall on your shoulders first with police providing valued support.

  • rate this

    Comment number 820.

    810. AlexCon

    " will be robbed, your wife raped and your children scared to death."

    Chill out, man. You have been watching too many horror movies.

  • rate this

    Comment number 819.


    "If you attack said burglar,you too are breaking the law. And should be dealt with."

    Define the word "Attack"?

    Are you attacking or defending if confronted in the dark by a unknown person in your own home and lash out out of fear, panic, rage???

  • rate this

    Comment number 818.

    A official animal electric fence with slicing barbed wire, offical doberman watch dogs & piano wire has been ready for the last fifteen years but no takers have tried .yet.
    Seriously anyone who goes past the boundary of any property to rob and plunder deserve everything which happens to them, One also must not lose ones temper, as the Sarg said 'one must let go the helmet when throwing it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 817.

    The law is clear-cut. The myth that the law is unclear stems from the few, highly publicised cases where someone appears to have used excessive force in protecting themselves and their property; where a court case was therefore wholly appropriate. Grayling's poor show on the Today Programme suggests the aim is to further confuse, not clarify, the law.

  • rate this

    Comment number 816.

    789.Wicked Witch of the South West
    .........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.
    Its easy for you
    You should be able to quickly turn 'em into toads


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