Burglary: Defending your home

On 4 March 2018 Richard Osborn-Brooks fatally stabbed an intruder in his home in Hither Green, London. Henry Vincent, the intruder, was killed after he was apprehended during a burglary. Vincent allegedly threatened Osborn-Brooks with a screwdriver and a struggle followed, during which Vincent received a stab wound which later killed him.

Osborn-Brooks was arrested on suspicion of murder and interviewed by the police. However it was soon announced that no further action was to be taken against him, meaning the Crown Prosecution Service were satisfied that he had been acting in self-defence. Public opinion has been divided about whether the police did the right thing in this case; some people believe that Osborn-Brooks should not have even been arrested after the death as he was clearly the victim.

The question of whether you are able to defend yourself from an intruder in your own home has been a hot topic since Tony Martin was convicted of murder in 1999 for the fatal shooting of a burglar in his home. There was public outcry following the conviction and he eventually served 3 years in prison for manslaughter instead, with Saunders Law representing him in his appeal.

It is a well-known fact that a person is entitled to use reasonable force in self-defence. In 2011, it was part of Prime Minister David Cameron's manifesto that he would offer greater protection to householders who used force against burglars. In 2012, the law was changed for "householder" cases with the intention that the permitted extent of self-defence should be wider:

"In a householder case, the degree of force used by D is not to be regarded as having been reasonable in the circumstances as D believed them to be if it was grossly disproportionate in those circumstances"

Although the press treated this like a free-for-all for householders, guidance was sent out to judges and prosecutors soon after which limited the application of the law, for example the defence did not extend to defending property or non-dwelling buildings.

The High Court then had reason to consider the law and interpret it. The conclusion was that it was clumsily worded and in terms of self-defence, not a lot had actually changed.

A homeowner will be able to successfully claim self-defence, as in the case of Osborn-Brooks, if he believed that it was necessary to use force to defend himself or others and that the force used was reasonable in the circumstances. If the force used crosses the boundary of reasonableness and becomes "grossly disproportionate", the homeowner is likely to be charged with a criminal offence.

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