What would you do if you apprehended an intruder in your home? It’s a question that has crossed the mind of most of us at some point, and is especially pertinent this week following the arrest of Richard Osborn-Brooks on suspicion of murdering career criminal Henry Vincent. The 37-year-old from Kent was fatally stabbed during a break-in at the pensioner’s home in Hither Green, south east London, on Wednesday. Osborn-Brooks has since been told he will face no charges, but his arrest sparked anger from neighbours.
So where do you stand legally, as a homeowner, when responding to a break-in in your house?
The law says:
You can use reasonable force to protect yourself or others if a crime is taking place inside your home.
What does this mean in practice?
It means you can protect yourself “in the heat of the moment”, including by using an object as a weapon. You are also allowed to stop an intruder running off, for example by tackling them to the ground.
How does the law define 'reasonable force'?
There’s no specific definition of this term - it depends on the circumstances. If you only do what you honestly think is necessary at the time, this provides strong evidence that you acted within the law.
Do you have to wait to be attacked before defending yourself in your home?
No, but you could still be prosecuted if, for instance, you continue to attack the intruder even if you’re no longer in danger, or if you pre-plan a trap for someone rather than involve the police.
So why was the farmer Tony Martin jailed?
Tony Martin shot dead a teenage burglar in 1999. He was convicted of murder and jailed for life in April 2000 for killing 16 year-old Fred Barras and seriously injuring his accomplice, Brendon Fearon, then 28. The sentence was later reduced to manslaughter.
His conviction came after prosecutors argued he had lain in wait for the burglars and shot them in cold blood.
And Munir Hussain?
Munir Hussain attacked an intruder with a cricket bat after the lives of his family were threatened by knife-wielding burglars in their home in High Wycombe, Bucks, in 2008. He was jailed along with his brother Tokeer after being found guilty of causing grievous bodily harm with intent. Lord Chief Justice Lord Judge, who reduced Munir’s sentence in 2010, explained: "This trial had nothing to do with the right of the householder to defend themselves or their families or their homes.
"The burglary was over and the burglars had gone. No one was in any further danger from them."