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 855.

    Those advocating booby traps should remember the Midlands gent who forgot to disarm his own & received severe leg injuries;

    hope there is never a fire/heart attack at home where the emergency services would either refuse to enter if signposted, or be injured/killed if no warning signs existed.

    I hate criminals who blight lives, but think before wiring the door handle to the mains electric.

  • rate this

    Comment number 854.

    758.Some Lingering Fog

    My Aunt has been burgled three times. The third time she was in her home and was so traumatised that she had to sell her house and move into sheltered accomodation. I would have killed the burglar if I had been there.

  • rate this

    Comment number 853.

    What I've noticed on the comments so far is "guns guns guns" you are aware of how hard it is to get a gun in the UK arn't you? What are we actually going to use to defend ourselves with? most likely a handy golf club or some form of sporting equipment. If you kill someone with it then you are likely going too far but it could just be one unfortunate shot that happens to kill the burgular.

  • rate this

    Comment number 852.

    Say if you have nothing to eat and you are starving and you have to steal this food in your local area to survive, are you really going to be battered for it? we will see more people in hospital which means more money for the nhs and also, people starving on the streets soon or the opposite, murdering rich people in able to get food or money because i expect alot of robbers would put up a fight.

  • rate this

    Comment number 851.

    This is another case of the present govenrment re-arranging the deckchairs on the Titanic. There is a perfectly good law at present - "reasonable force" may be used; judge decides if force was "reasonable". CEO of a Victim support charity said on BBC News this morning there were very few of these cases each year. Why waste Parliamentary time responding to Tabloid hysteria?

  • rate this

    Comment number 850.

    A balance has to be struck which is best left to the courts and police! I don't think so..If anyone burgles a persons home then they must pay the price..nasty people deserve nasty things,simple

  • rate this

    Comment number 849.

    simple fact is that nobody should be in your home unless they are invited,and if someone is in your home at night,you should be able too defend your family and yourself.with whatever means.

  • rate this

    Comment number 848.

    835 2Next debate will be whether the burglar you just killed was actually a burglar or an innocent trick-or-treater."

    Noted. I'll definitely be careful before hitting anybody breaking into my home on October 31st between the hours of 6 and 9pm.

  • rate this

    Comment number 847.

    819. Ste

    It would be interesting to see if this law will be enforced upon the rich robbers who steal from the poor, ie, MP's and bankers, and DC. Somehow I doubt it, only the right wing, ranters seem to think this is anything but smoke and mirrors, used by Distraction Dave to divert attention from his own "burglary", plundering this country to death and blaming it on the "Have not's".

  • rate this

    Comment number 846.

    I should be protected by the law if I defend my home. If I use my gun on a thief who wants to steal & if startled, potentially stab me, I'll shoot him if I can. I hope he survives, I do. I'll ring 999 ASAP. But I'm not going to give a thief the chance to slash my family's throats after asking for him to "politely leave & this time use the front door please."

  • rate this

    Comment number 845.

    An armed society is a polite society - see Switzerland

  • Comment number 844.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 843.

    Many burglaries happen because prisons incarcerate but don’t rehabilitate – there has been a huge lack of investment and failure in this area.

  • rate this

    Comment number 842.

    If you let householders use more violence to protect themselves then the nasty people will start using more violence to rob them

    =>Let householders? LET HOUSEHOLDERS?

    Are you nuts? That's what is wrong with the law:"reasonable force" is a judgement and what's reasonable to a judge sitting comfortably at his bench may not be to a terrified householder.

  • rate this

    Comment number 841.

    The intruder made the decision to illegally enter a property and they must bear the consequences of their decision and not be able to sue etc

  • rate this

    Comment number 840.

    Edward Milliband being the weakest leader we have ever had in the Labour Party, could learn a thing or two from what is going on in Brighton.

    You see Ed mate, these are the sort of policies you should have been focusing on not trying to tell us 'you have a character' thanks to you will will lose the next election.

    Step down and let your brother take over!

  • rate this

    Comment number 839.

    This is subjective fear-mongering. The oldest trick in the political book. How about some policies that help the majority? That's good politics
    These cases were already dealt with by the previous change in legislation. Where is the evidence that this needs to be changed again? (i.e. will community safety and well-being go up? why do people burgle?).

  • rate this

    Comment number 838.

    Start by making it automatically impossible for a burglar's victim to be liable for damages in the civil courts. Then give the Police sole authority to decide whether to act against the victim with a very high protective bar.

    Ensure that the career burglar always loses all personal assets on being found guilty, so everything is at risk even for a "minor" burglary.

    It would be a start!

  • rate this

    Comment number 837.

    No such thing as 'over reaction' to an intruder in your own home. Intruders deserve all they get, particularly in hours of darkness.
    Householders in such situations should never even be arrested or detained. They should have no concerns or worries put on them by the state system for defending their home.

  • rate this

    Comment number 836.

    @823 If life was so good under Labour then how on earth did they lose the last election. It sounds like they fixed all the country's problems. You have a very short memory if you think the world suddenly went bad in the past 2 years!I was a kid in the Thatcher years - I recall going to a perfectly good school, had a few trips to decent hospitals, a Ferguson Videostar and both my parents had jobs!


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