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The BBC's Guto Harri
"A Conservative government would change the law to favour those who protect themselves"
 real 28k

Fred Broughton, Chairman Police Federation
"I don't think this is a question about changing the law"
 real 28k

William Hague MP
"An explosion of anger and resentment from millions of law abiding people"
 real 28k

Wednesday, 26 April, 2000, 12:27 GMT 13:27 UK
Hague backs right to defend homes
Hague: "Shares public outcry" over Martin jailing
Tory leader William Hague has demanded changes in the law to protect people who defend their homes against intruders in the wake of the jailing of farmer Tony Martin.

In a speech to party activists, Mr Hague acknowledged there had been an "explosion of anger" by millions of people after Martin was found guilty of murdering a burglar at his remote Norfolk farmhouse.

Tony Martin
Jailed for life: Farmer Tony Martin
He promised that a Tory government would overhaul the law with a "strong presumption that in future the state will be on the side of people who protect their homes against criminals".

Mr Hague's comments have already drawn criticism from political opponents. One former judge attacked the Tory leader's proposals as "over the top".

Referring to the Martin case, Mr Hague said: "I understand the outcry and I share it.

"It's time we ask ourselves some blunt questions.

Vigilanties have no place in a civilised society but there is all the difference between the career criminal who sets out deliberately to burgle a house and the terrified home owner who acts to protect himself and his home.

William Hague
"People across the country want to know what is the point in having police service and prisons when three criminals [who broke into Martin's farm] with 114 convictions between them are allowed to wander free and terrorise rural communities.

"People want to know what has happened to our courts service when career burglars and muggers get a few hours community service or a couple of months in prison if they are unlucky while people defending their home risk life sentences."

Police cuts criticised

But Mr Hague warned against creating a society of vigilantes and said the Conservative proposals would reflect natural justice.

"We are going to rebalance the justice system to protect people who defend their families, their homes and their properties against criminals.

Are people going to be encouraged to have man-eating tigers tied up to be released if there is a burglar about?

Former High Court Judge Sir Michael Davies

"Unless our laws reflect natural justice then they will fall into disrepute."

He criticised the government for cutting police numbers and failing the criminal justice system.

Mr Hague also attacked a "liberal legal establishment" which he claimed was too often prepared to put the rights of criminals before the rights of "millions of vulnerable people who live in fear of crime".

The Tory leader, who was heckled during his speech, called for "honesty in sentencing", an end to automatic early release and extending the policy of "two strikes and you're out" to crimes including selling drugs to children.

Policy reversal

Mr Hague was speaking days after the party's home affairs spokesman Ann Widdecombe ruled out changing the law to create a new right to self-defence.

Prime Minister Tony Blair, on the local elections campaign trail, declined to comment on Mr Hague's speech but told a Hertfordshire audience crime had doubled in the Tories' 18 years in office.

Liberal Democrat Simon Hughes accused the Tory leader of "ill-considered populism".

And Sir Michael Davies, a former High Court Judge, said that judges should have discretion in sentencing, but attacked Mr Hague's speech.

"Are people going to be encouraged to have guns or an electric fence with killing power around their back garden, to have a pair of man-eating tigers tied up to be released if there is a burglar about?" he said.

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