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Last Updated: Thursday, 1 January, 2004, 12:33 GMT
Martin case tops BBC's Today poll
Tony Martin
Farmer Tony Martin's case has influenced the bill
A proposal to allow homeowners to use "any means" to defend their homes, has topped a BBC poll on the bill people would most like to see become law.

BBC Radio 4's Today programme asked listeners to vote on suggested Private Members' Bills, with the first choice taking 37% of the votes.

Norfolk farmer Tony Martin, whose fatal shooting of a burglar in 1999 sparked a national debate, welcomed the result.

Second place went to a bill to encourage more organ donations.

'Conflicting legislation'

Mr Martin 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."

More than 26,000 votes were registered by listeners taking part in the poll and the winning bill will now be presented to the House of Commons by Stephen Pound MP.

He will need to persuade the 20 MPs who have been chosen to put forward Private Members Bills to take up the poll winner's suggestion.

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

Wild west

However he added: "I think the law at the moment is totally confused. The current test of reasonable force is discredited ... there appears to be a presumption of guilt against the householder, and I think what we need is a presumption of innocence in favour of the householder."

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."

Organ hope

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.

Dr Evan Harris, Liberal Democrat MP for Oxford West and Abingdon, who supports the suggested bill, said the system is used in other European countries and would allow more organs to be used.

Some 80% of people are said to be in favour of having their organs donated in the event of their death, yet only 20% carry a donor card, he said.


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