Belfast Telegraph

Laws around defending our homes are still a Gray area

By Grace Dent

Chris 'Mad Dog' Grayling's plans for law change with regard to self-defence against burglars do sound jolly exciting. Confusing and unworkable, yes, but brimming with Tory, vigilante-style derring-do, nonetheless.

Grayling's words were a big hit with yer honest-to-goodness white-van-man Tories, who took to the social networks with cries of "Three cheers 4 Graylin! The only gud thieve is a dead one!"

Clearly, these people have never watched Fletch in Porridge or Adam Ant during his Dandy Highwayman phase. Both quite brilliant thieves; seems a bit on the harsh side to kill them.

By contrast, Left-wingers heard Grayling's words and plummeted into woe, painting a picture of the country's future as a sort of Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome - heads on spikes, guns under every bed. Left-wingers, who normally abhor victim-blaming, suddenly yelled for a fair hearing for burglars, to hell with the victims.

Okay, let me read the advice again: 'Householders who act instinctively and honestly in self-defence are victims of crime and should be treated that way.' But force which is 'grossly disproportionate' is still against the law.

I've read this several times, eventually sounding like Father Ted explaining to Father Dougal which cows are far away and which are small.

Personally, what I'd love to be made clear, as a 5ft 4in woman, is what 'honest' legal options for 'instinctive' self-defence I have.

Whenever this topic rears its ugly head, I hear male politicians seeming to describe what male homeowners can do to fight off male burglars. The inference being that a kick or a punch or, at worst, a jab of a knife in the heat of a battle will be ignored by the law.

But surely the only things I could do to tackle, say, a 6ft burglar in the heat of the moment and come off trumps would be 'grossly disproportionate'.

A small woman is never going to take down a large man with 'instinctive, honest' action. The only precedent I have of someone my size using honest force and winning against robbery is Macaulay Culkin in Home Alone.

But, most nights at 4am, I don't have access to tarantulas, boiling pans of liquorice and corn syrups, or a heated iron on a swing. So is Chris Grayling saying I can keep a shovel under my bed and wage a full Shaun of the Dead blood-and-guts attack on violent-seeming intruders?

Or is he - altogether more worryingly - saying that, if I do kill someone in my bedroom with a shovel, just for hogging the duvet, I can then tell the police that he was a burglar and they will sigh and say, "Oh, help yourself"?

Or, rather, is he merely saying, "Look, I'm making all the right noises Tories are supposed to at conference. This will be a real vote-winner.

"But I've not really thought it through, so everyone keep on doing what you're all doing. Don't have nightmares. Just call the police afterwards and they'll sort this whole mess out"?

But, with 16,000 fewer officers on streets across the country by 2015, I'd prefer some clearer answers, if it's all the same with you.

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