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Last Updated: Friday, 2 January, 2004, 11:41 GMT
Martin backers' law bid 'to fail'
Tony Martin's home: Bleak House
Tony Martin said he would defend his home again
A plan to allow homeowners to use "any means" to defend their homes is unlikely to receive parliamentary support, John Prescott has predicted.

"We can't have a situation of vigilante law," he told BBC Radio 4's Today show.

The bid topped the programme's poll on the private member's bill people would most like to see become law.

Meanwhile, Norfolk farmer Tony Martin, whose fatal shooting of a burglar in 1999 sparked a national debate, said he would do the same thing again.

'Unworkable' bill

More than 26,000 votes were registered by listeners taking part in the poll and MP Stephen Pound originally pledged to champion the winning bill.

He would have had to persuade the 20 MPs who have been chosen to put forward private member's bills to take up the poll winner's suggestion.
I'm afraid that's the kind of vigilante law that I don't think Parliament would agree to
John Prescott

But after he heard the result, the Labour politician appeared to withdraw his support, arguing: "This bill is unworkable," as it "endorses the slaughter of 16-year-old kids".

His reaction prompted the deputy prime minister to tell Today: "That blew up in your face, didn't it?"

Mr Prescott said it was important for householders to express their views on potential legislation but this proposal amounted to "vigilante law".

Crime resistance

"I don't think for a moment this will take off in Parliament - I mean, to give somebody the right just to shoot somebody...

"You can't ignore people's concerns about security in the home... but if you are then going to give the right to somebody to pick up a gun because they have seen somebody in the house and then shoot them, then I'm afraid that's the kind of vigilante law that I don't think Parliament would agree to."

Tony Martin
Farmer Tony Martin's case has influenced the public
Liberal Democrat MP Andrew Stunell, who topped the private member's bills' ballot, indicated he is unlikely to be swayed by any appeals for support for the listeners' preference.

He has already decided the measure he wants to introduce - and it is unlikely to "tackle the heart of the point" voters had put forward, he said.

Instead he has plans for a bill that will improve crime resistance in the home.

"At the moment we have regulations which talk about fire escapes, but no regulations which talk about making houses burglar proof and I hope my bill will do something to put that right," he told Today.

But Mr Stunell added: "I had hundreds of people get in touch with me about what bill I should take and interestingly, not one of them made what I would call the Tony Martin point."

'Shake-up' needed

Mr Martin, who was released from jail last summer after serving two-thirds of a five-year sentence for manslaughter, welcomed the poll result.

He said a change in the law was needed to protect homeowners.

"This is wrong, heinously wrong, that you should actually live in fear in your home that if somebody breaks in that, basically, you are going to have the law jump down on you. It is just not right," he said.

Asked whether he would do the same thing again, he said: "In the same circumstances, yes, if I am terrorised."

Burglar Fred Barras, 16, died after Mr Martin shot him in the back with an illegally-held pump-action shotgun in August 1999.

Wild west

His accomplice Brendan Fearon, 33, suffered leg wounds.

Mr Martin's MP, Conservative Henry Bellingham said the listeners' proposal went too far by suggesting homeowners should use "any means" to protect their property.

But leading criminal barrister John Cooper warned that the idea was dangerously flawed.

He said: "The law as it stands at the moment, despite its critics, is functioning. If you are in your house and you are attacked by someone or threatened by someone, you can use proportionate force.

"We do not live in the wild west. This legislation that is proposed effectively may well turn us into that."

The second most popular bill in the poll calls for an opt out clause in organ donation, so that the organs of those who have died are used automatically unless the deceased person specifically stated a refusal.


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