How far can you go to protect yourself if an intruder breaks into your home?
It’s a familiar question but one that is once again being posed up and down the country this week after a pensioner was arrested on suspicion of murdering a burglar.
The 78-year-old, named locally as Richard Osborn-Brooks, discovered two men at his home in Hither Green, south-east London, in the early hours of Wednesday morning.
One suspect, armed with a screwdriver, forced the homeowner into his kitchen where a struggle ensued and the alleged intruder was stabbed, Scotland Yard said. The 38-year-old was taken to hospital but was pronounced dead soon after.
While the CPS and the police urge people to always ensure their first port of call be to alert police, where do you stand if you feel you have no other choice than to defend yourself or your family?
According to official guidance, anyone can use reasonable force to protect themselves. In general terms, that means the more extreme the circumstances and the fear felt, the more force you can lawfully use in self-defence.
You are given greater protection under the law if force is used to protect yourself or others when dealing with a burglar or trespasser on your property. The law allows a householder faced with an intruder to use disproportionate force as long as it is not grossly disproportionate. The level of force used will be measured against the threat that the householder honestly believes he is facing. Whatever degree of force is used, even if disproportionate, it must still be reasonable in all the circumstances as the householder honestly believed them to be, if the householder is to avoid prosecution.
The law doesn’t require you to wait to be attacked before using defensive force but does not protect you if your actions are over-the-top or calculated revenge – for example, knocking the intruder unconscious then kicking and punching them repeatedly.
What about if the intruder is killed? The CPS says if you have acted in reasonable self-defence, as described above, and the intruder dies you will still have acted lawfully. Indeed, although Mr Osborn-Brooks was initially arrested, the CPS decided that he should not be prosecuted.
It is important to note that if you chase an intruder as they make off, you are no longer acting in self-defence – however, you can still use reasonable force to recover property and make a citizen’s arrest. The CPS urges homeowners to consider their own safety first though.
How can Gotelee help?
If you find yourself facing investigation or prosecution by the police and need the expert advice of a Criminal Law solicitor, we can help.
You may need us to defend an allegation wrongly made. Our solicitors will find out the circumstances, advise you and represent you if the case goes to court. We often act for the parents of children and guide the family through a particularly stressful time.
We have offices in Ipswich, Felixstowe, Hadleigh, Woodbridge and Melton.
To find out more, call us on 01473 298140.