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Last Updated: Wednesday, 12 January, 2005, 19:39 GMT
Tougher intruder laws ruled out
Burglar entering house
The current law allows 'reasonable' force to be used in defence
The law on the amount of force householders can use against burglars will not be changed, Home Secretary Charles Clarke has announced.

A review has concluded the current law, which allows people to use "reasonable force" against intruders, is "sound".

But Mr Clarke says there will be a publicity campaign to ensure people understand they can protect themselves.

The Tories want a change so only those using "grossly disproportionate force" would risk being prosecuted.

That call has been backed by outgoing Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir John Stevens, saying people were uncertain about what was allowed.

Publicity campaign

Public awareness of the issue was fuelled when Norfolk farmer Tony Martin was jailed for shooting dead a 16-year-old burglar in 1999 as he ran away from the farm.

The Tories say their plans would not have affected the Martin case but argue other householders could find themselves in the dock.

Those who deliberately break the law do not deserve the protection of the law
Guy Hammond, London, England

Mr Clarke's statement on Wednesday came before the Commons gave a first reading to Tory MP Patrick Mercer's private member's bill for changing the law.

In his first major decision as home secretary, Mr Clarke said police chiefs and prosecutors had been consulted during the review.

"I believe in that old adage 'an Englishman's home is his castle'," he said. "That's exactly what should be the case and I believe the current law provides that.

"But people weren't sure and we needed to make that clear."

Public pressure

Director of Public Prosecutions Ken Macdonald said case law made it clear that people could use what force they instinctively felt necessary at the time for self defence.

A trawl of cases over the last 15 years had produced only 11 examples where householders or occupiers of business premises had been prosecuted, he said.

A clarification of the law rather than a change will help to reassure the public
Chris Fox
Association of Chief Police Officers president

And those had included a warehouse manager who waited for a burglar, caught him, beat him, tied him up and then set fire to him.

Mr Mercer said he was extremely disappointed but would continue with his campaign, especially as a recent survey suggested 87% of people thought the current law was weighted in favour of criminals.

"This is public opinion, this is democracy, I'm amazed the home secretary is choosing to ignore this," said Mr Mercer.

Confidence fears

But Liberal Democrat spokesman Mark Oaten welcomed the government's decision, saying the present law allowed self defence.

"What we would not want to do is extend that so you actually feel it's your responsibility to go down the stairs and actually attack the burglar," said Mr Oaten.

Association of Chief Police Officers president Chris Fox agreed, saying: "A clarification of the law rather than a change will help to reassure the public and improve their confidence in the criminal justice system."

Malcolm Starr, a spokesman for Tony Martin, said changing legal wording would have been a waste of time: police and courts had to wage a war on burglars.

Homeowners want the right to defend their property

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