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Monday, 1 May, 2000, 13:42 GMT 14:42 UK
How far should you go to protect your property?
Tony Martin clearly thought he was acting in self-defence when he shot at two burglars who entered his Norfolk farmhouse last August. He killed one of the intruders, 16-year-old Fred Barras. Yesterday a jury found him guilty of murder and he got a life sentence.
Some of Tony Martin's supporters claim that rural crime in the UK is on the increase and they feel vulnerable and exposed.
But does that mean people should take the law into their own hands in order to protect their property? Should we have the right to protect it, whatever the consequences? What do you think?
It's just insane that law is for and against the criminals and good law abiding citizens get nothing out of law and order.
We might as well return to the Stone Age and live lawless. At least saves us taxes we are currently paying to keep the system going
I support Mr. Martin. The burglar got exactly what he deserved. Perhaps it is time for a public campaign to get Mr. Martin released with a full pardon.
I don't understand the problem here. If someone is in your house and shouldn't be there, shooting them is a fair course of action. If they're killed, too bad. I've been burgled, and know the stress it causes, and the long-term upset. If I'd have had a gun and disturbed the intruders, I would have happily shot them dead. Burglars are nothing but scum. We have suffered too long with namby-pamby apologists.
As a US Citizen, I may perhaps cause some surprise by revealing my views: I believe that the jury system works correctly in most cases, and that the verdict should always indicate that all is not as simple as the headlines make it appear.
Given a jury verdict, even in those cases which seem to fly against common sense and logic, one's initial reaction must first be that the jury acted on evidence beyond the superficial, publicly reported pseudo-facts; and acted to consider facts which a story-book retelling would not reveal.
I have served on a jury, and I can tell you that it is a different feeling once you are in a courtroom. It is easy to throw dice and cast a person's fate when watching television, but it is quite another thing when asked to do it before God and the law, especially with the officers of the court, the representatives of the victim(s) and the representatives of the accused criminal(s) standing alive before you.
Regardless of whether Mr Martin had a firearm or not, Fred Barras was committing an offence and should NOT have been there in the first place.
Perhaps the men who took him there should shoulder a large part of the guilt.
I find most your comments to be scary and inhuman. To belittled one's life for material goods is silly. Please Britain do not become like America; What will be next? You'll shoot your neighbour cause he stole your hammer left in your yard?
Thank God I was born an American! You call this justice? You people are sick. If this had happened here the police chief would give the guy a medal for marksmanship. Mr. Martin, I salute you.
I think if you fear for your life or someone in your household you should be able to defend yourself. What right does a person have to break-in and threaten you.
However, his actions were not taken in self-defence and on the spur of the moment. It was pre-meditated as he had prepared booby traps for the intruders and he shot the intruder in the back as he was running away - hardly an act of self-defence. This was pre-meditated, cold-blooded murder. Mass vigilantism is not something I would want to see in this country.
Graham King, UK
The justice system seems to think that criminals have rights, but I'm sorry, once anyone sets foot on my property in order to commit a crime, their rights go right out of the window as far as I'm concerned. Especially when the criminals rights seem to be put on higher priority to the victims'. The justice system desperately needs to be changed. If it isn't the criminal will just continue to laugh in our faces.
The law should always reflect current public opinion - always its servant, never its master. If a law contradicts public opinion (as the self-defence law seems to be doing at present), that law is, by definition, a bad law and should be changed.
It never ceases to amaze me how bloodthirsty the people who write to you are. He shot and killed (deliberately) using an illegal firearm. He said his aim was to kill, so premeditated, and seemingly most people want him for Prime Minister. What a load of codswallop. He had no right whatsoever to take someone else's life. Period.
The Police are under a lot of pressure and not all the blame can be laid at their door, but something has to be done to curb this behaviour.
I can feel compassion for the family of the young man who is dead, but to be honest it was almost inevitable.
Mr Martin, while not a hero should not have been charged with murder, a manslaughter charge would have been more appropriate.
James Jeffrey, USA, but English
The law appears to have failed in every respect. It has penalised Martin for defending himself and his property. It also failed Barras because, after some 28 convictions and being on bail at the time of the shooting, he should really have been in prison. If he had maybe the two would never have met? Roll on the American three strikes and you're out philosophy.
Nice one Tony. And I don't mean Tony Blair. If someone broke into my house while my wife and daughters were asleep I would have no hesitation in shooting him/her/it. If they died, tough. My reaction when I heard the thief had died was to think "well he won't be breaking into my house then".
Shooting an unarmed teenager in the back can never be considered self-defence.
John B, UK
The police and judicial system of this country repeatedly fail the victim and exonerate the criminal. Myself and my wife and then two-year-old son were
the victim of repeated intimidation and threats by drug dealers who lived next door to our property. I lost my job, my wife ended up on medication. We endured this for eighteen months.
Mr Martin is guilty - guilty of doing a better job than the police and the legal system.
Criminals have scant regard for the rights of their victims, so why should they have any rights themselves?
He broke the law in the first place therefore any sympathy he may have evoked is misguided, but then equally these burglars should have received harsher sentences in the past which would have deterred their actions, three strikes and out?
P Richard, UK
We lived on an Estate in Northamptonshire 5 minutes from a police station. The quickest response we ever had on phoning the police was 20 minutes, not much help when you have vandals on your premises. I am afraid the Police and the courts who do not back up the police if they do make the effort, make for a very nervous and unpredictable public.
You do not know if the intruder has a weapon, so it only natural for the person to defend his property. There needs to be an alteration in the law to stop people getting convicted for protecting their own home. The intruders should not be there in the first place.
Graham Palmer, England
Life is more important than property. Full stop. Only a sociopath could disagree with that statement.
We would then be on a slippery slope to a position similar to the out of control gun laws in the US. Armed burglary would increase and the public would then be more at risk than the current situation. Guns have no place in the UK (nor should they in the US).
Matt, Germany (England)
The system should study the responses of the common people. I explained the situation to my eight-year-old. His answer "They shouldn't have stealed and he wouldn't have shot them".
Whilst you have to have a certain amount of sympathy with Tony Martin, it is not acceptable to take someone's life in this case and he is guilty of murder. If you make it legal for people to protect their homes in this way, it is open to abuse such that people can commit cold blooded murder and then claim self defence.
Alone and frightened after dark in an isolated farmhouse how on earth is one expected to make a judgement as to "reasonable force". Hindsight is a wonderful thing but of no use in the afore-mentioned situation. The burglars are volunteers, the householder the victim.
Sally Revill, England
Let's put this into perspective, it seems that it is reasonable for someone to invade your home, potentially terrorise you, destroy parts of your house, take your possessions and maybe even physically damage you. But as a home owner you have no right to defend either yourself or your home from attack - is this justice? Is it sane?
The law is a bargain, between you and everyone else. We all sacrifice certain freedoms in order to protect other freedoms.
I give up my freedom to walk into someone else's home and walk away with their property so that my home and property is protected.
Hobbes stated in his book Leviathan that once you step outside this bargain (the law) you should cease to be protected by it.
These youths stepped outside the law and I find it absurd that the very thing they disregarded continues to protect them.
Furthermore those people, who suffer under such a weak and poor system, and seek alternative redress are themselves put down with a jealousy and vindictiveness that show that those in charge of this system fear reform, and mock the pleadings and fears of the public. The current legal system does not have the respect of the people, and it is inevitable that people will seek an alternative redress.
Christopher Parker, UK
I live in London and have been the victim of crime several times. I now clearly see that the police and judicial system is failing the public. It is now too easy for the criminal to weigh the possibilities of getting caught against the rewards (e.g. theft) and then choosing the path of crime. We need to send a loud and clear message to criminals that if they commit crime, they will suffer the consequences, and if that means they lose their life then at least they knew they had a choice beforehand.
Maybe I'm unique in my views but isn't the point of having a law against possession of unlicensed firearms supposed to prevent this sort of thing from happening. Mr Martin has a history of possessing illegal firearms and using them as he saw fit. He is described with the euphemism of 'extremely eccentric.' The fact he murdered anyone should be of no surprise - the fact he's become a national hero is.
Everyone should be able to feel secure in their own property. These guys were not out on a country walk as pure innocents. They knew if they were caught they would have to get out of a situation, and they would more than likely used force. They should also expect some form of brutality towards them. In the old days they would have strung up for this invasion of privacy. If it isn't stopped now who knows what we will have to do to protect our families and property.
If my great-uncle had had a shotgun, and had killed the thug who meant to murder him before he got the chance to do so, he'd probably be in jail himself at this very moment, with the liberal types wailing "the poor young man didn't deserve to die just for robbery!"
Who can ever predict the outcome of a crime? How many - especially elderly people have died because they surprised a burglar who maybe really didn't intend to kill until they were discovered, but panicked? Everyone should be able to use force, even deadly force to protect themselves within their own homes.
Malcolm D McKeating, England
There are two real criminals who should bare the burden of this crime.
1 - The public for not demanding harsher jail sentences for repeat offenders.
Had the victim been arrested on suspicion of house breaking then he would have been presumed innocent until proven guilty. The farmer acted as judge, jury and executioner. Theft or attempted theft has not been a capital offence for many years so by what right had this man to take another's life? What price a video recorder or TV now?
John Collis, UK
Yes you should have the right to protect your own property... whatever happened to the idea that a man's home is his castle. At any rate the police don't seem to be capable (or bothered) about doing anything to protect people who live in rural areas.
It was Mr. Martin's intention to punish burglars with his own brand of justice. He fired no warning shot and made no attempt to contact the Police. After he was burgled for the second time he informed the Police their services would not be required as he was going to take care of matters himself. He murdered Barras and has suffered the consequences of his actions.
The burglar fell and hit his head, later dying from his injury and the homeowner was prosecuted. This is clearly utterly insane, yet it goes on. I think it's time we started to question our methods of deciding who is put in charge, as those in power continually demonstrate complete contempt for the central ideals of democracy - by completely ignoring public demands, instead making tiny unnoticeable "politically safe" changes to a system desperately in need of a radical overhaul in many areas.
Rob Harris, England
Perhaps I'm mistaken, but I thought we did away with the death sentence long ago. According to most commentators on this page, it's no longer OK for the justice system to hang people for stealing but it is OK for individual members of the public to shoot intruders on their property, essentially giving the young boy the death penalty for burglary - but he didn't even get a trial.
Prisons in this country are overcrowded enough, they should be kept for cold-blooded murderers.
Tony Martin was about to lose what he had spent his life working for - part of his life was about to be, possibly irreplaceably taken and he defended it. Release him now and send a message to those who remove themselves from the protection of our law.
As an American, I find much of this debate to be absurd. First of all, in a free society, I don't see how a firearm in the hands of a law-abiding citizen can be considered "illegal". It is a man's natural right to defend himself, his family and his property. I work very hard for everything I have. I have nice house and nice furnishings and I work damn hard to get all of them.
In all the arguments about this case and its reflection on British justice, two things strike me.
A life sentence for Mr Martin is absurd! Certainly he has a fundamental right to protect not only himself but his home as well. That right, however, does not allow him to murder at will. A lessor charge and sentence would be more appropriate.
Philip Addy, England
Tony Martin getting life for defending
himself is a travesty. The police were
unable or unwilling to protect him.
The judicial system is a disaster,
biased in favour of the guilty.
Justice is only available to those
who can afford the leading barristers.
The test should be:
1) Did you BELIEVE that your life was threatened?
2) Did you use the reasonable force required to defend yourself?
If the answer to both of these is 'yes' then Mr. Martin is not guilty of anything but a natural human desire to save his own skin. Shame on the British justice system for whipping this man who defended himself and that which he has worked for!
However, a re-trial and an acquittal can rectify this. Martin should not have been charged in the first place, but given a medal for removing a blight upon society. I am not advocating everybody becoming armed, but in certain circumstances people are justified in taking the law in their own hands, this is one of them.
James McNair, England
If the police response time is so slow that they can never be there to protect you, it is your duty to protect yourself. In the dead of night, how can you know that the intruder would not be armed with at least a screwdriver to stab you. There could be more than one of them and so lethal force should be acceptable.
It is extremely upsetting that Farmer Martin has been convicted for murder. Manslaughter would have been more appropriate. He was after all defending his own property against criminal rat-bags. Policing is a farce in this country. No longer does the Englishman have his castle!
Yes, the boy was 16...but he was a criminal. He broke into someone's house. Are you seriously trying to tell me that he didn't know that was wrong? From what I've heard, this farmer fired blindly into the dark, and just happened to catch the boy in the back. The fact that he later said he intended to kill was on account of the number of times his house had been broken into and nothing been done about it. Convict him of possessing illegal firearms, yes, but not murder.
Home invasions wreck the victims' lives. Everyone deserves the right to protect themselves against home invaders. Your justice system is sick.
Fred was shot in the back and left to bleed to death crying for his mother. Tony had spoken of his desire to kill next intruder, had laid traps and had sat in wait. I would have had little doubt in voting guilty.
Andrew Lowe, England
It is pretty obvious that Mr Martin is no criminal, as he is not the one who went out looking for trouble. He unfortunately was put in a situation in which he had to react in such a violent way as a means of self-preservation and desperation. The blame for this incidence lies squarely on the judicial system and the society which gives the criminals more privileges than the victims.
Killing is wrong every way you look at it. Defending your property should not go as far as taking one's life. If it were the case, we'd get every off-license owner in East London killing just about everyone who enters their shop.
Simon Cameron, UK
A grave miscarriage of justice I feel. This man has been tried by hindsight, without the realisation that split-second reactions in a life-threatening situation are very different from everyday life. The world belongs to the young thugs, while the elderly take their chances. A dreadful situation.
It is absurd that Tony Martin has been found guilty of murder. His only crime was possessing an illegal firearm. The two people that broke in are the criminals not him.
What is also absurd is that Mr Martin was sentenced to life on a majority verdict. What is fair about this? If guilty of murder, and sentenced to life the prosecution should have to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt. 10-2 verdict means that a reasonable doubt still existed. The judge should not be allowed to accept anything other than a unanimous verdict for such serious crimes.
The trial and punishment are a travesty of justice. Whilst property is of little importance compared with human life, a government that does not support the right of citizens to possess and enjoy property is not worthy and should be disestablished forthwith.
Brett Golledge, UK,
Once again we have been treated to opinions so egregious that only an imbecile could offer them. It is an interesting, but not useful, facet of the British social security system that judicial employment is provided to the elderly at such time as they have lost adequate mental capacity and can no longer be productive members of society. While laudable in maintaining low unemployment figures, it does impose perhaps unacceptable costs on other, less fortunate, members.
Something went wrong with this verdict. Arguing that the intruders were under-age and didn't know what they were doing at the time of the crime is absurd.
If this is a simple case where someone broke into Mr. Martin's property, I reckon he had every right to shoot his gun at them.
Murder can never be an acceptable way to protect ones property. Shooting someone in the back does not strike me as self-defence and comments Mr Martin made before the burglary made it seem to me that this was a deliberate killing to punish the intruders, not to defend his person.
We all have a part to play in making life harder for burglars as do the police. A society where cold-blooded killing is acceptable is not the solution.
James Marshall, UK
Speaking as someone who has been on the receiving end of a burglary, I cannot put into words what I think of those people who consider it their right to invade and steal the hard-earned property of law-abiding citizens. They are the lowest of the low and whilst I am sorry for the family of the boy killed, I feel that Tony Martin should not have stood trial, let alone been convicted of murder.
What is minimum force? If you wound him, he'll probably take you to court and win with the crazy juries we have in UK.
Something that most commentators here miss - he killed a sixteen year old boy with his entire life ahead of him just to protect his property.
As a society, we must judge crimes as crimes - intention has nothing to do with it.
He took someone else's life and he should pay by losing his liberty for the rest of "his" life.
The victim was a teenage boy and
he was shot in the back with an illegal
firearm. What is wrong with all these
people? You don't need to be a woolly
liberal to find the prospect of the state
giving people the right to kill to protect
their stereos absolutely nightmarish.
Once again, the British justice system is the laughing stock of the world.
Dave Graham, UK
The jury clearly felt that the level of force used by Tony Martin exceeded the 'reasonable level' allowed in law, hence they found him guilty. Had he pleaded guilty to this charge, another outcome may have been possible. Those who possess and use firearms must be prepared for the consequences.
There has been much debate over the past couple of days as to what a person can do to protect themselves and their family from intruders. I have yet to hear a sufficient response.
I feel sorry for the farmer here. What would have happened if he hadn't defended his property? He would probably have become one of the many people assaulted and beaten to death each year by burglars disturbed in the act. I used to live in Saudi Arabia, and in the 6 years I was there, knew of only 1 burglary having taken place in a community of 15000. He was caught and his hand was chopped off! Severe maybe, but we didn't have to lock cars, house doors etc, as theft was more or less unheard of!
Irrespective of a countries justice system, common sense supersedes it. Everyone has a fundamental right to defend their person and their property. If this leads to the death of a criminal, so be it.
Had Martin not shot and mistakenly killed Barras. Had Barras then gone on to kill Martin, in self-defence of course. Judging by recent cases Barras would have escaped with a charge of manslaughter, a trip to Disneyland and later an apology for wrongful arrest and loads of money. Martin deserves a medal, not a custodial sentence.
I doubt you'll print this, but if you do, I'd like to say that I am fed up of our societies victims coming off worse than their perpetrators. He deserves a medal.
It is a disgrace to jail Mr Martin, two thugs, who have a long history of crimes, against society break into his house, most likely frighten him, what did the two thugs expect. Here in the states we have (in some states three strikes and YOUR OUT). It is a great pity that the government, of England does not face up to the fact that in a period of less than 25 years the streets of major cities in the UK are not safe, and that young thugs are "getting away with it"
If I recall correctly, Mr. Martin had experienced many previous burglaries. Presumably the police had completely failed to apprehend the individuals responsible and thus left Mr. Martin with no choice. What can you do when society has failed you?
Everybody should have the right to protect their own property albeit with say the rule of minimum force. The Police and Armed Forces have to abide by this as long as the amount of force is justified as reasonable in the circumstances. If the force that is needed to achieve this is what Tony Martin had used then that is reasonable. No one has the right to invade and do whatever they wish to anyone else's property etc, unless they are prepared to suffer the consequences. I would do whatever it takes to ensure the safety of my family and possessions.
20 Apr 00 | UK
Farmer's lawyer confident over appeal
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