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Defending the home

Jim Jepps


It was determined today that the law on defending the home against intruders will not change. The Conservatives, the right wing press and some elements of the Labour Party had been pressing for the law to be changed.

Currently the way the law stands is that a householder that is burgled can use "reasonable force" in order to defend themselves. When the Tories first announced they wanted to change the definition I thought that perhaps they wanted to change the law so that householders could use "unreasonable force", I wasn't far off.

There are plenty of myths around this issue, as if there is a constant stream of prosecutions against little old ladies who've tried to fend of vicious burglars. The fact is that in the last fifteen years there have been only eleven prosecutions of householders for violent offences against those breaking into their homes.

They include Tony Martin, who had already announced at a public meeting that he would like to kill a Gypsy, having been burgled a number of times. He then lay in wait with a shotgun over a period of days, and when eventually he was burgled the burglars fled upon detection. Tony Martin pursued and killed one of the two and severely injured another. Martin was not defending himself or his home at the time of the shootings, he was pursuing the two boys out of revenge, then claimed this was a justifiable homicide.

Another of these prosecutions is a case where the householder caught, tied up, tortured and then set fire to the intruder. This is not reasonable. This is deliberate murder in order to revenge a break in and clearly disproportionate. In fact those arguing for the law to be changed have not come up with any case where a householder has been unfairly convicted in the way they claim is common place. Not one example.

There are a large number of cases where the Crown Prosecution Service has not prosecuted householders who have used force, even where the intruder has died as a result. This list of cases include home owners who have armed themselves (sometimes with guns) and used force against unarmed intruders. This is not unreasonable.

For once the government has taken the correct course in not bowing to pressure from the right and have left the law as it stands.

One problem around having any kind of rational debate in this country on crime and the law is that there is a strong dose of moral panic that goes with the discussion in the press. There is a great deal of exaggeration about the levels of crime and in particular violent crime. There is a great deal of emphasis on ever more severe punishment of offenders and very little discussion on how we prevent people developing anti-social behaviour in the first place.

Is it sensible to send those convicted of crimes to places where drugs, theft and violence are higher than anywhere else in society, jail? Is it sensible to criminalise people for committing certain acts - like smoking cannabis, entering the country or prostitution?

When large numbers of women are in jail for non payment of fines should we not be examining whether they should be there and why are so many women too poor to keep themselves out of jail?

Until the Tories and right take up the cases of these people wrongly in prison it is not very easy to take their posturing over fictitious injustices very seriously.


January 2005


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