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 1815.

    I was always let to believe the law was there to protect civilised member of society and punish criminals. so why is it the law seems to be protecting the criminals instead of the people who respect and stay within the confines of the law it is the persons decision to break the law and therefore should not be protected by the law. they should reep what they sow whatever the consequences are.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1814.

    If you tried to burgle my home, put my family at risk and attempt to steal my stuff that I have grafted hard for, you'd be a lot more than "undesirable". Thats not exactly being a Nazi is it? If you don't like Xfactor don't watch it. What a daft thing to say!

  • rate this

    Comment number 1813.

    As I ASKED a DCI in the 70's: quantify " reasonable force". He could not and so could not the courts. As he said: " it depends on the circumstances". Just watch what happens when the first case goes to court, especially if someone is killed.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1812.

    I am about 99% left wing .. but some person breaks into my home when I am there, I assume they me and mine harm, not if their in my garden but in my house, after that I have no problem protecting my family .. its so easy, do not break into peoples houses and do not get a pick axe in the head !

  • rate this

    Comment number 1811.

    1797. Name Number 6 : I don't understand your assumption that the lower murder rate is caused by the lack of a death penalty. Could the lack of a death penalty not be due to the low murder rate? A simple comparison of UK murder rates before and after the DP here would be more objective and relevant to here and now than he bleatings of an obviously partisan website.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1810.

    Blimey, I think you expect far too much of Dave. He's going to try and tell you what he thinks you want to hear. But not very effectively, probably.
    You need to get out more :-)

  • rate this

    Comment number 1809.

    1807. moz
    Life and our privacy has become cheaper.
    Crime and violent crime has been consistently decreasing for the last 200 years.

    Vested interests continually perpetrate that crime is constantly on the up, its just not true.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1808.


    'Woud anyone argue that the world would be a better place without burglars?'.

    The world would also be better without shoplifters, pickpockets, speeding motorists, forgers, embezzelers, flashers, people who abuse animals and anyone involved in giving us X Factor. So what are you advocating ... mass slaughter of 'undesirables'? I think you'll find that's been tried before.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1807.

    Is there anyone who can honestly say they are personally aware of less crime over the last few decades? Anecdotal, I know, but a murder my home town in 1966 was in the national news for weeks. Now, at about 3 per year, only the local press carries it. Life and our privacy has become cheaper.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1806.

    posters shouting from their Daily Mail soapboxes without ever reading other submissions.

    I am hurt, i use the 600 seconds betweeen posts to read the other posts.

    However, I agree there wouldn't be much point if it wasn't funny.

    p.s never bought Daily Mail in my life

  • rate this

    Comment number 1805.

    In the light of new burglary legislation, is it OK to shoot my bank manager?

  • rate this

    Comment number 1804.

    1801 Winkernet

    You're correct, of course. But HYS posters aren't Prime Minister. I expect the PM to come out with more than populist sound bites which alter nothing. No, hang on a minute I used the wrong word. That is what I expect ... but it's not what I want.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1803.

    Gigantopithecus - I pretty much agree with that. It's simple isn't it?!
    Theres a lot of fuss for the burglars sake and I am absolutely baffled. If every burglar got shot dead, I almost guarantee there would be less burglars knocking about. Would anyone argue that the world would be a better place without burglars?

  • rate this

    Comment number 1802.

    1791. abbeyx0x: I would not blame you at all, duck I'm probably bigger, not to mention more confident and foolhardy, than you. 1786. riff77 and 1785. postingdude. I understand the 'murder rate' is usually quoted as per million population. I'll ask my friend Prof Rouleston where to find any relevant research and review it. Soporific. .appropriately. Soporific.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1801.

    HYS is 'just rhetoric' don't you think. It's not a debate but merely posters shouting from their Daily Mail soapboxes without ever reading other submissions. It is funny though!

  • rate this

    Comment number 1800.

    "Grossly disproportionate" force

    How about a series of you tube videos as a guide
    Minor tussell
    Moderate force
    Maximum proprtionate force
    disproportionate force
    Manslaughter /murder

    Also like beaufort for politicians hot air we could have the grayling scale for pointless measures.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1799.

    Superman Tio Terry complained about my comment saying he can leap tall buildings in a single bound, LOL!

    I've got to hand it to you, Tio, you have made my night. I've never laughed so much in all my life.

    So you must have nuked my comment with your access codes?

    Watch out, lads, Tio will be storming the building from his laptop:)

    Burglars watch out, Tio's about!

  • rate this

    Comment number 1798.

    I dont think it'll give burglars a reason to arm themselves, just another factor to consider before deciding to break into someones home - that they might get their head caved in. If I was a burglar, It'd come to mind - whether they're SAS or not lol

  • rate this

    Comment number 1797.

    1789. moz
    What part of ''States without the death penalty have lower murder rates'' did you not understand?

  • rate this

    Comment number 1796.

    1793 davewales

    I think you've retuned to the main point of this HYS. You already, in law, have the right to use force to defend your family, property and possessions. This has been seen both in the police taking no action and courts dismissing cases against householders. Cameron's big announcement is just rhetoric.


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