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 875.

    Cowardly thieves will not routinely arm themselves in light of Mr Graylings assertions. They are, after all, cowards, the lowlife inadequates of society.

    They will merely revert to their instinct and select the aged, weak, infirm and least able to defend themselves.

    Mr Grayling may inadvertently be exposing less able householders to the inertia of his vote alluring speech!

    Rethink maybe?

  • rate this

    Comment number 874.

    They've got it wrong on the first line, "Householders who over-react when confronted by burglars".

    Anybody that enters your house unlawfully should be dealt with by any means that you see neccessary, if there are children involved too this so called "over-reaction" should be allowed as you'd do anything to protect your family!

  • rate this

    Comment number 873.

    If someone breaks into your house you do not know if they want to take you TV or rape and murder you.
    You should have a right to assume the worst that they want to kill you and have a gun. Why should you wait until they have a gun pointed at you? If you have a legally held shot gun you should be able to use it or and other LEATHAL weapon to hand – because they may want to kill you.

  • rate this

    Comment number 872.

    Do whatever you do, do what a good man would do, and what is a good man, I do not know, but at every point every turn, do what a good man would do.

  • rate this

    Comment number 871.

    "I'm not going to give a thief the chance to slash my family's throats.."

    I was actually broken into many years ago and confronted by a knife weilding fiend, who turned out to be one of my neighbours who was totally inebriated. You really need to get out more if you think that life is really like TV. Make home security a priority and you'll be fine and less likely to have high blood pressure!

  • rate this

    Comment number 870.

    6 Minutes ago
    An armed society is a polite society - see Switzerland
    A hahahahahahahahha!

    You've got to be trolling me!!!!!!!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 869.

    What is the matter with the people posting here? If someone breaks into my house, he/she is not there on the side of the angels. They had better watch out in my house. I bite back!

  • rate this

    Comment number 868.

    @Emili regarding 852, if you’re truly starving and have no other way to eat wouldn’t you shoplift food? You know rather than break into someone else’s house to steal their possessions. Would you care to guess what % of house burglars are starving and broke in to steal food…

  • rate this

    Comment number 867.

    "Brian Mac
    These changes are long overdue"

    But the changes aren't needed. You are allowed to defend yourself and property with recognition that you are not in a calm frame of mind. But laying in wait to trap and torture or shooting a burglar fleeing your property aren't permitted. I don't know of any cases where anyone has been charged let alone convicted in other circumstances.

  • rate this

    Comment number 866.

    I agree with #808... first off the fact is that someone you have not invited into your property should not be there anyways, so as Lord Judge stated, they are taking risk and causing a un-necessary risk to the homeowner. Faced with some yob in my home I would be scared & have no way to know how it would turn out, backing off like some suggest, may not work as determined thief will want valuables.

  • rate this

    Comment number 865.

    In Gold I Trust

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

    It should be a legal requirement to shoot all trick-or-treaters on sight.
    Nasty foreign custom.

  • rate this

    Comment number 864.

    To all the liberals on here...

    We tried it your way and it doesn't work.

    Now get out the way and let us defend our property....

  • rate this

    Comment number 863.

    Burglars and intruders lose their human rights the moment they break into a premises. In the USA they can be legitimately shot. We should have the same here, i.e. the ability to protect the home owner and their property. Some of the namby pamby's posting here seem more concerned about the rights of criminals. Says more about them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 862.

    An organised team of burglars broke into my country and stole 1 trillion pounds. They still have their hands in the till, can we use lethal force to stop them.

    Bankers, burglers same thing really.

  • rate this

    Comment number 861.


    An armed society is a polite society - see Switzerland"

    Private gun ownership is far more limited in Switzerland than the UK. Guns held as part of their Militia are very, very definitely *not* allowed to be used for anything other than official training.

  • rate this

    Comment number 860.

    The law will NEVER be just as long as police ARREST the victims of burglary and house-breaking, no matter what they've done.

    It's appalling that the law ever allowed that. How on earth did we get so soft as to call the arrest of victims "justice".

    Some householders will be scarred for life by such violation while the real criminal gets let off with almost no punishment.

  • rate this

    Comment number 859.

    If you suffer death or serious injury through the furtherance of a burglary or similar crime against persons or property, then those who acted against should not be legally liable.

  • rate this

    Comment number 858.

    Yet another distraction from the mess the country's in under this lot of extremists, I never thought I would have to live through this thatcherite rhetoric and unfair government policy again, well, I was wrong. Squatters, Benefit Scroungers, Europe, The poor, Social services all to blame for the mess I suppose. The UK Government (any of 3 main parties) do not represent me or most of UK citizens

  • rate this

    Comment number 857.

    At present it all comes down to interpreting current rules, so clarification is a sensible step in ensuring everyone understands what is allowed and what isn't. It also serves to take the heat out of an emotive subject and situation and in fact, discourages vigilatism as everyone is clear on what to expect.

  • rate this

    Comment number 856.

    @ 725.CodeDebugger
    44 Minutes ago
    "These ideas can lead to an escalation of violence on both sides."

    As opposed to the situation now where the burglar, providing they are caught, can claim compensation from their victim if they are attacked 'too agressively' or trip and hurt themselves on property they have no right to be on in the first place. I favour these changes.


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