Imagine the scenario: you’re not at university but are instead alone in your family home. It’s the middle of night. You are awoken by noise from downstairs. Somebody is moving about inside your house yet your family are 200 miles away. Do you keep as quiet as possible and call the police, speaking in whispers and hoping the police will come quickly and the intruder won’t come upstairs? Or do you grab a weapon, confront the burglar and threaten violence against him if he doesn’t leave quickly? What if the burglar is a woman? Or what if there are two of them?
I accept that it’s a very difficult question to answer: you can’t answer properly because while imagination can be powerful, you ultimately do not know how you will feel until you experience that situation (which will hopefully never happen). But a recent news story did get me thinking upon those lines.
Links to the story:
For those who have not heard the story or don’t want to read the links, the story concerns a career criminal who was stabbed to death in a burglary that went horribly wrong. Initially, the pensioner whose house he had burgled, was arrested by police on suspicion of murder, but has since been cleared of wrongdoing and will face no further action.
The question raised by this case as well as the Tony Martin case (the farmer who was jailed for three years for fatally shooting one intruder and wounding another) is how much force can reasonably be applied in self-defence before defending your home becomes murder or manslaughter or GBH?
The law is a clear: a householder has the right to defend themselves or their family if they believe their lives are in danger during an armed raid. But should the law go further or place additional limitations on the use of force? For example, would people like the law to say that any force used is acceptable? Would people like it to be legal for a homeowner to own a gun (and use it on an intruder without the threat of punishment)? Would this be a good way to deter burglary? If you break into someone’s home, surely you cannot complain if force is used against you?
Or do you side with Henry Vincent’s relatives who admit ‘he was wrong to do a burglary but he didn’t deserve to die because of it’? This implies that residents who defend themselves must be careful not to use excessive force. But is this realistic during a moment of such severe anxiety? And what about when an intruder is not armed? Does the intruder not pose a threat even without a weapon?
I’ve asked lots of questions but have posed few answers. That’s because, in my opinion, there is no easy answers in this case. However, if reading this case deters one person from committing a burglary then I’ll be delighted. Furthermore, this case encapsulates why I love studying criminology. You have the motivation of the offender on one hand and whether the response from the criminal justice system was the correct one on the other hand. And in the middle of it you have the law! What could be better?
I’m nearing the end of my undergraduate degree. I’ve had a great time here at the University of Leicester. More about the degree I’ve studied can be found at this link: