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Last Updated: Tuesday, 7 December, 2004, 12:58 GMT
Sir John Stevens comments: Your views
Sir John Stevens
People should be allowed to use any force necessary to defend themselves against burglars, Sir John Stevens has told the Daily Telegraph newspaper.

The London Metropolitan Police Commissioner said homeowners should be presumed to have acted legally, even if a burglar dies, unless there is contrary evidence.

He added that individuals should only be prosecuted when there was evidence of gratuitous violence.

At the moment, homeowners are entitled to use "reasonable force" to defend themselves and their homes and it is up to judges and juries to decide what level of force is reasonable.

Do you agree with Sir John Stevens? Should individuals be allowed to 'use what force is necessary' and 'to do so without any risk of prosecution'? Or does the existing law work well enough already? Tell us what you think.

This debate is now closed. Thank you for your comments.

Your comments:

This topic was suggested by Sam Clarke, UK:
Is Sir John Stevens right when he says that homeowners should be able to use any force necessary against burglars without risk of prosecution?

A lot of contributors are stating that Sir John is encouraging violence. My understanding is that he is stating that the home owner should not be automatically prosecuted if he hurts a burglar when defending his property. I would like to see the law support this by revoking the rights of a burglar to sue someone if injured on their property whilst in the act of or intending to carry out a crime.
Jim Kirk, Basildon UK

This would make intruders far more likely to carry guns and other black market weapons, to which ordinary householders have no access. It's just another right-wing idea, masquerading as common sense. I'd also like to know just how many burglary victims are currently languishing our jails for using "unreasonable force". Few, if any, I suspect.
Johnny W, Hull, England

I pay significant sums of money for insurance consequently I can't see me taking on a burglar, mostly likely armed, for the sake of a TV / video. What insurance can't protect is my family and for that I don't need a change in law now or ever to defend them and myself, if necessary with lethal force.
Ian, UK

What is needed here is quicker response times, when calls to police are made, so that intruders can be apprehended by those trained to do so. Instead of wasting several billions of public monies on ID cards which will in time become ineffective, surely the resources would be better put into increasing police numbers?
Dave, England

Reasonable force is a force stronger than the burglar can muster, I agree with that. Most burglars are armed already and prepared to use that on you or your family. Wake up England.
Mike Owsley, London UK

At one time, if you phoned the police they would turn up. Then there was a time when if you phoned the police they would tell you that they were too busy to attend. Now it seems that what they are saying is don't bother to phone us at all, just deal with it yourself! Mr Blunkett, Mr Brown... I want my money back please!
John Lawrence, UK

You can only guess at the sense of violation and anger that a burgled homeowner feels
R T Cope, Burton on Trent, England
If burglars knew that they may face death if caught on the property, it may actually stop them doing it in the first place. The only people who are really qualified to comment on this are those of us who have been burgled. Until then you can only guess at the sense of violation and anger that a burgled homeowner feels. Those people who are defending the right of the burglar should try coming home to a house that has been burgled, and try explaining to their children just when their playstation is going to be replaced.
R T Cope, Burton on Trent, England

Does this mean that if a teenage lad nips over your fence to get his football back you are justified in stabbing him to death 'in case' he was intending to burgle you?
Matt, Sheffield

If I tackled an intruder in my house I would not stop beating him until he was unable to move. I would take no chances on him recovering while waiting for the police to arrive only to take revenge on me or my family. I would only worry about the law afterwards. I'd rather be in prison than attend the funeral of my wife or child!
tp, London, UK

It is the job of the police to protect us from Burglars
Mike, Brighton, UK
It is the job of the police to protect us from Burglars. The police currently (from bitter experience) regard burglary as an inconvenience to them and merely act as distributors of crime numbers to enable householders to make insurance claims. Isn't it about time the police acted against so called "petty" crime like burglary and vandalism? Sir John is just admitting defeat. In the absence of effective policing you see a public reaction in which this debate is replete. If the police are not up to the job it's time for fundamental change
Mike, Brighton, UK

If I woke up and found an intruder in my house I may well act disproportionately compared with what might be considered reasonable. In my opinion it is the burglar who is acting unreasonably and deserves what he gets. In the same vein I think that a burglar should be barred from suing a homeowner for any injuries incurred in his nefarious activities.
Simon Barker, Leatherhead

So if you catch a 12 year old burglar stealing apples from your outhouse the householder has a right to inflict injury - or even death - on him? What nonsense. I agree that property owners need a wide margin of discretion as to the force they may reasonably use when confronted with burglars, but they have that at the moment. Many cases are not prosecuted, and there is often more to the celebrated causes than is widely reported.
William, Keswick, Cumbria

I understand why the comment was made, but feel it is far too simplistic and pandering to those in our populous unable/unwilling to engage in the real causes of crime - the fact that in our 'developed' country there is an ever increasing gap between haves/have nots, compounded by the lack of real help for ex-convicts. If everybody could be employed on a living wage, I believe this problem, and that of our burdened benefits system, would be dramatically reduced.
Matt, Chelmsford, UK

I have been a victim of burglary several times and yet completely disagree with Sir John
Louise, London, UK
I have been a victim of burglary several times and yet completely disagree with Sir John. The punishment for burglary, to my knowledge, is to be decided by the courts, not the average homeowner, especially if that homeowner is so stupid that his/her argument in this case boils down only to "an Englishman's home is his castle".
Louise, London, UK

If you want to be protected by the law then you must not break it in the first instance. If you are trespassing on someone's property then the owner should be able to use any amount of force he deems necessary without the barmy liberals telling us to protect the criminals and persecute the law abiding citizens.
Paramjit Sira, London, UK

Yet another tough talking soon to be ex-policeman. Why is it Metropolitan commissioners only take a hard line when they are about to retire, but buckle to the politically correct elite when they are under pressure?
James, Bucks, UK

How about the police stopping the burglars before they get to our homes? It strikes me that the current law governing "reasonable" force is satisfactory. I suspect that only a very few cases of alleged unreasonable force come to court and that most are dismissed by the CPS.
Chris Klein, Chandler's Ford UK

These comments just up the stakes
Pete Nightingale, Reading UK
If burglars expect to be met with deadly force then they will go equipped to mete out deadly force of their own. These comments just up the stakes, leaving the vulnerable more exposed than ever.
Pete Nightingale, Reading UK

And what is new? This is the existing law of the 'use of reasonable force' that is decided upon by a judge in a court. The only difference is that the police want to be able to determine what is 'gratuitous' i.e. unnecessary before they send it to the CPS. However, that does not stop the assaulted burglar/ trespasser from pressing charges, anyway. The law has to exist as it currently does, as each case has to be looked at on its individual and sometimes terrible circumstances.
Rob, UK

Since when has the tariff for burglary been execution without trial?
Jack Hunt, Leeds, UK

At 05:30 in the morning I woke up to find a young man in his twenties at the end of my bed trying to steal my wife's mobile phone from the charger. Knowing that he was between my two daughters and son and that he might have had friends with him in the house helped the adrenalin "kick in" as I leapt out of bed. Now what was I supposed to do? Chat to him about social deprivation and lack of opportunity, or protect my wife and three kids? These are real problems for real people. Anything that stops the victim protecting themselves makes the burglar stronger and more confident.
Simon, London

The criminal has the choice to enter or not
Ashley Stevens, Cambridge, UK
I agree with Sir John. The criminal has the choice to enter or not. It's a risk-analysis that he/she makes, bearing in mind the potential consequences. However, we do need to get the balance right. In the US, postal workers and paper delivery boys do not enter the boundary of the property and the post box is right on the boundary so that it can be accessed without crossing private property. This is to avoid being blown away with a gun by the property owner. I wouldn't like to lose the post being placed in the post-box of the house. But anyone breaking and entering, that's open-season as far as I am concerned.
Ashley Stevens, Cambridge, UK

I agree in principle but fear this may lead to burglars coming armed for confrontation (i.e. with baseball bats, knives, even guns), I think such a move would lead to more seriously injured and killed 'have a go heroes' than we currently see.
Kevin, West Midlands

A few years ago, on New Year's eve, a friend of mine left a house party to get some fresh air. He went back into the house, and in his stupor, curled up on the stairs and fell asleep. The next morning, he had the familiar, "where am I" feeling. He walked out of the house and realised he had not gone back into the house where the party had been, but next door. Would you people have had him shot?
Andy, Reading, UK

Surely the test should be "such force as is not wholly disproportionate in the circumstances". That ought to give the embattled householder a sufficient wide margin of appreciation to deal with the situation, but continue to criminalise the extreme.
Seymour Laws , Chorley

At last, someone with a bit of common sense! This country has gone overboard on human rights for criminals. If people don't feel safe in their own homes what faith can we have in the criminal justice system?
Tollie, Aberdeenshire

We spend a lot of effort standing up for and protecting human rights in all manner of circumstances, including that of those captured during conflict. To suggest however at home that those rights are totally lost for someone who we believe may be breaking into our property seems illogical. It's a question of getting the balance right, but an open season on burglars doesn't make sense.
Dave Moffat, Edinburgh

If there is one place you should feel safe, it should be your home
Christine Knox, Merseyside, UK
I strongly agree. If burglars don't want to get hurt, they should not break into people's houses. If there is one place you should feel safe, it should be your home. It seems to me the courts want to protect the criminals rather than their victims.
Christine Knox, Merseyside, UK

In America, they have the right to bear arms and for some reason the incidents of burglary are way down compared with UK. I wonder why?
Nige C, Abingdon Oxfordshire

To Nige C, Abingdon Oxfordshire. They also have 5000 times more gun deaths than the UK, too. I do agree with John Stevens on principle, but the number of injuries and/or deaths will increase.
Colin Heyes, UK/Germany

Having been burgled, the police advised me never to tackle an intruder as they are often desperate people. Most people overestimate their prowess. Sir John's comments are only going to lead to an escalation of intruders coming armed and increased likelihood of householders being injured or killed.
GTF, St Helens, United Kingdom

People could now be shot dead to protect a DVD player or an i-pod
Alasdair Mackenzie, London UK
Two hundred years ago people would be hanged for stealing a sheep or a chicken. That is because the law valued property, particularly that of the rich, above human lives, particularly those of the poor. If Sir John Stevens really means that householders should be allowed to use any force necessary, that means people could now be shot dead to protect a DVD player or an i-pod. Is that progress? In any event, police officers and/or juries would still have to consider what level of force was 'necessary' in each individual case. Is it any easier to decide that than to decide what was 'reasonable', as at present?
Alasdair Mackenzie, London UK

Absolutely not. Life trumps property rights.
Alex, Bristol, UK

I fully agree with Sir John. As a father of 2 small children, the thought that I could be prosecuted for protecting them within my own home fills me with abhorrence. Once an individual has forcefully entered my home, they should not be afforded the protection of the law that they have so recklessly broken. Undoubtedly if this change in the law was implemented the frequency of burglaries would reduce, as individuals would have to think twice before forcing an entry into a property.
D Riley, Southampton, Hampshire

I applaud Sir John for his courage and plain-speaking.
Mr Paul Sheffield, Wakefield, England
What a breath of fresh air! I applaud Sir John for his courage and plain-speaking. If those who commit burglary are incapable of giving due regard to others and their property, then perhaps a little concern about what they may encounter whilst housebreaking will help.
Mr Paul Sheffield, Wakefield, England

Pity he waited until he is about to retire before saying this. It would have been much braver and more helpful if he had said this earlier in his time in office, when he could have contributed more effectively to the debate.
David, Leeds UK

People should have the right to defend their property from intruders and use whatever means to evict them. If a 'please leave' doesn't work then the intruders forfeit any right to escape a darn good thrashing.
Linda, Wiltshire

In Maine homeowners have the right to defend their life and property with lethal force. We also have the right to carry arms and this right is not at the discretion of authorities. Co-incidentally Maine has one of the lowest rates of violent crime in the states. The maxim proves true. 'An armed society is a polite society.'
Richard Ingles, Maine, USA

Breathtaking hypocrisy. Sir John supports homeowners using force to defend property. Yet his force detain and assault protestors seeking to keep their historic rights. What reasonable force can we use to oppose the state? What can people opposed to identity cards, the hunting ban and the Iraq war do that is "reasonable".
Andy, Birmingham

This is not what Britain stands for.
K Abraham, UK
This is not what Britain stands for. I'm afraid that Sir John Stevens has got it wrong. The ability to do anything to an intruder, whether that be killing or otherwise, is something that has more in common with the United States than with the United Kingdom.
K Abraham, UK

Stevens comments are a tacit acceptance that the police are failing in their duty to protect householders. I don't know whether this is down to funding, manpower, or whatever, but the fact remains that if we had an effective police force this would be a non-issue.
John, Norwich, UK

Whilst I would agree that a householder should be able to defend his/her home by any means - there is a danger that determined burglars may equip themselves with weapons to a greater degree in order to meet any anticipated force from the householder. This may lead to violent situations arising where they might not have done originally.
Richard Griffiths, Esher, Surrey

At last, a law that is on the side of the normal hard working family people. If somebody came into my house that I work hard to pay for when my wife and 2 little daughters were in, do people expect me to stand back and let him do his worst, or clobber him before he gets to them. Wake up all you liberal Human rights brigade, we all know what the answer is.
Carl Parkin, Haxey, UK

The problem with the "reasonable force" concept is its point of assessment. For one party it is assessed in the heat of the moment, probably under great fear, possibly in the dark and certainly with no-one to consult and no time to think. For those sitting in judgement it is assessed in a warm, light courtroom, with no pressure and all the time in the world to jointly debate the issue without (possibly mortal) fear of making the wrong decision. This is why the "reasonable" quickly becomes "unreasonable" and why Sir John Stevens is right.
Paul B, Oxford, UK

I definitely agree with Sir John Stevens. There is something wrong if people have to decide between letting a burglar endanger their family or go to jail for preventing them doing so. Giving us more rights can act as a very effective deterrent.
Ed Karten, London, England

The whole question of criminals having any rights at all needs to be re-evaluated in my view. If you break society's laws then surely you cannot expect to enjoy the privileges of the rights that society provides as a reward for living within the rules. For far too long this country has passed laws that provide far more protection to the perpetrator than the victim.
Steve, Manchester, UK

I agree wholeheartedly with Sir John, it's about time someone with some authority has the guts to stand up and be counted. Thank you Sir John!
Mo, Leicester, UK

I should very much like to shake that man's hand and buy him a pint. Someone with some common sense at last.
John D, Birmingham

This would mean any dispute would be skewed in favour of the property owner
R. Hill, Norfolk, UK
Do people like John Stevens have no imagination? This would mean any dispute would be skewed in favour of the property owner, who could protect himself legally by accusing the other of forced entry. This would also mean, as soon as you ask someone to leave your house, you can then use unlimited force on them! No way does this make sense here. Reasonable force is reasonable force, not a shotgun at close range.
R. Hill, Norfolk, UK

100% support for Sir John. At the moment the law (and clever lawyers) seems to favour the bad guys. It's about time the good guys (and gals) had a chance.
David Roberts, Grimbergen, Belgium

If homeowners are able to use more force to defend their properties, will the criminals just come more prepared?
Dan Tyerman, Surbiton, Surrey

Here we enter the slippery territory of defining "necessary". I would interpret that to mean the absolute minimum of force, but there are those who might consider it carte blanche to behave like thugs. Realising that fear, rage, and an adrenaline rush tend to make people behave in ways they wouldn't otherwise must also be recognised. As always, what seems a very simple issue becomes very complex upon close inspection.
Kaz, Briton in NJ, USA

Funny he should advocate this when he is about to step down. But, I do agree wholeheartedly. I wonder what Blunkett thinks?
Andrew, England

How about a little democracy? Let the British people decide whether they want the right to protect themselves and their families from thieves and attackers.
Jai Gomer, UK

This lawless situation arises from a lack of effective policing
Michael, York
Although I support the right of anyone to defend him or herself, this lawless situation arises from a lack of effective policing. If you are in a threatening situation you should be able to call upon the police, the professionals, for help, not feel that they will take so long to arrive that you have to tackle the criminal on your own.
Michael, York

It amazes me that the head of a police force will only come out with comments like these when he is absolutely sure that he has nothing to lose. He's been in the force for quite some time and he takes this opportunity to speak out when he has only a year of service left.
Jay Mason, Manchester, UK

I am sure that this is a somewhat predictable response but Sir John Stevens' comments are potentially very dangerous. It is a fine line between using reasonable force in self defence, defending yourself or your property and actually committing a serious crime that you later come to regret.
Stuart, Colchester

Daft and irresponsible. At the moment the test is reasonable force which is judged by ordinary people. Any householder will have enormous sympathy and anything even remotely reasonable will be accepted by a jury - but any force?
Al, Slough

Why should I have to respect a criminals' rights?
Alb, Walsall, UK
I believe Sir John Stevens is right. It's simple, if a burglar wasn't committing a crime by entering a house illegally, then nothing would happen to them. Why should I have to respect a criminals' rights when they are clearing violating mine. It would stop the opportunists, which would reduce crime.
Alb, Walsall, UK

Three cheers for Sir John Stevens. It's about time someone stood up for the victims of crime.
Barb Garner, Golden Cross, E. Sussex

This is what happens when justice is not seen to be done!! We can no longer look to the courts to back our basic human rights as home owners.
Carole, UK

I would say that the minute someone criminally enters your home then they forfeit their human rights. I think the problem here is that there is no clear definition of reasonable force. How about allowing citizens to defend themselves and their families with any means at their disposal?
Finlay, Aberdeen, Scotland

An Englishman's home is his castle. Burglars must face the consequences of stepping over the boundary of this private space.
Paul F, Nottingham, UK

I agree. If you enter another person's house illegally, you should leave all your rights outside the door.
Graeme Phillips, Guildford, UK

It's about time. Why shouldn't we be able to defend our homes with any means necessary? The more burglars realise that robbing someone's house could be fatal, the less likely they'll rob you.
Philip Shorter, Tonbridge, England


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