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Is it illegal for Myleene Klass to wave a knife at intruders?

The Magazine answers...

Myleene Klass, a TV presenter, claims she was warned by police for waving a knife after spotting intruders in her garden, but is there any way such an action could be against the law?

Myleene Klass
Klass's fiance was away on business

Celebrity Myleene Klass was in the kitchen of her house in Hertfordshire when she saw young men who she didn't know in her garden. Her reaction was instantaneous. She picked up a knife, banged on her kitchen window and waved the knife at them before they fled.

She was, according to her spokesman, later warned by police officers that carrying an "offensive weapon" was illegal in her own home. The allegation is vehemently denied by Hertfordshire Police, but it raises the question of whether this could be an offence in England.

The story comes at a time of heated debate about whether the law should be changed to make absolutely clear what action householders can take against burglars and other intruders on their property.

But did Klass break the law?

Possession of an offensive weapon only applies to public places
Waving a knife could count as common assault
But idea of self-defence makes it unlikely in these circumstances

The charge of carrying an offensive weapon is found in the Prevention of Crime Act 1953 but refers only to public places, says criminal lawyer Julian Young, of Julian Young & Co Solicitors. Klass's home is her private property, so it could not be argued that she had committed an offence.

Subsequent legislation like the Criminal Justice Act 1988 and the Offensive Weapons Act 1996 have touched on the offence but the position remains the same.

"It wouldn't mean there might not be some other offence," says criminal lawyer Robert Brown of Corker Binning solicitors.

A "threatening behaviour"-type charge would also fail because Klass's actions were on private property, he notes.

Common assault

Under the section of the Public Order Act 1986 labelled "Fear or provocation of violence" and subsequently amended to "Intentional harassment, alarm or distress", it says: "An offence under this section may be committed in a public or a private place, except that no offence is committed where the words or behaviour are used... by a person inside a dwelling and the other person is also inside that or another dwelling."

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But under common law, waving a knife at someone might constitute common assault. Despite what most laymen might assume, you do not need to have touched somebody to be guilty of assault, says Mr Brown.

"Assault involves putting someone in fear for their personal safety. If I raise my fist at you [for instance]. Waving a knife at someone could amount to an offence."

But, as both Mr Young and Mr Brown note, the element of self-defence in this case would make an assault conviction unlikely. Klass was at home with a young child upstairs.

"If you are using reasonable force to protect your property or your family or yourself then you have an excuse," says Mr Young.

"She has got, apparently, strangers going into her garden and looking into her garden shed. She is a woman on her own. She's got a child."

Man holding knife
Possesson of an offensive weapon has to be in a public place

An argument of self-defence could even apply to a charge of carrying offensive weapons in a public place, says Mr Young, for instance if someone had purchased a kitchen knife and was taking it home and was then attacked.

And for the record Hertfordshire Police say they didn't tell Klass off at all about her knife-waving.

"Officers spoke to reassure the home owner, talked through security and gave advice in relation to the importance of reporting suspicious activity immediately to allow officers to act appropriately," says a spokeswoman.

"For clarification, at no point were any official warnings or words of advice given to the home owner in relation to the use of a knife or offensive weapon in their home."

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