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Last Updated: Friday, 28 October 2005, 09:40 GMT 10:40 UK
New bid for tougher intruder law
Burglar breaking in
There has been much debate over defending homes against intruders
Householders and shopkeepers would be given the right to use greater force against burglars under new laws being championed by a Conservative MP.

Anne McIntosh's Private Members Bill is the third attempt to change the law after the idea was put forward by listeners to BBC Radio 4's Today.

The current law allowing "reasonable force" has been deemed confusing.

Ms McIntosh's plans would mean people would not be prosecuted unless they used "grossly disproportionate force".

The bill, which is backed by shadow home secretary David Davis, is due to be debated in the Commons in December.

On Friday, Ms McIntosh is launching a national campaign to win public support for the proposal.

Listeners' law

Critics of the present law say it leaves those who tackle burglars open to the threat of prosecution.

In one of Britain's highest profile cases, Norfolk farmer Tony Martin was jailed for life for murdering 16-year-old burglar Fred Barras, in 1999.

Anne McIntosh MP
Anne McIntosh said defending your property was legally "unclear"

The conviction was later reduced to manslaughter on appeal and the sentence cut to five years. Mr Martin was freed from prison in July 2003.

Ms McIntosh told BBC News: "We must allow people to use force which is proportionate to the threat that they face.

"Obviously something which is grossly disproportionate, as clearly the Tony Martin case was, would still be illegal.

"But I believe that the law is not clear, I believe the law's got to be clarified, and the balance has got to be restored so the victim is protected, and that the burglar is not treated as the victim."

'Showing off'

Home Office Minister Fiona MacTaggart insisted the law change was unnecessary.

"A householder or anyone else who is attacked by a criminal has the right to use reasonable force to protect themselves or their property," she told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

Ms MacTaggart said Ms McIntosh's proposals were "just showing off" and argued they could increase the risks for homeowners.

People might set traps for burglars if they were allowed to use more force rather than informing the police, she suggested.

That could make it more likely that burglars would carry weapons, she added.

Poll pressure

The first attempt to change the law came when Labour MP Stephen Pound agreed to champion a "listeners' law" chosen by Today's audience.

However, when listeners voted to give householders the right to use "any means" to defend their homes, a horrified Mr Pound argued against the plans.

Since then the idea has been taken up twice in the Commons but failed to make progress.

Earlier this year a bill by Tory MP Patrick Mercer ran out of parliamentary time but received a second reading by 130 votes to four, after Tory MPs packed the Common.

Ms McIntosh's Property Protection Bill extends earlier proposals to include commercial as well as domestic properties.

MPs can introduce their own legislation under the Private Member's Bill procedure.

Blair 'support'

Tony Blair last year said he understood householders' concern about defending their homes.

But the government later ruled it was not necessary to change the existing law.

Instead, the Crown Prosecution Service and Association of Chief Police Officers launched a campaign to combat public confusion about the existing law.

The guidance, which related to England and Wales, said householders who injured or even killed intruders were unlikely to be prosecuted - providing they were acting "honestly and instinctively".




BBC NEWS: VIDEO AND AUDIO
Hear Anne McIntosh defend the bill




SEE ALSO:
MPs support reasonable force bill
04 Feb 05 |  UK Politics
Burglar defence guidelines issued
01 Feb 05 |  UK Politics
Tougher intruder laws ruled out
12 Jan 05 |  UK Politics


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