What would you do? You have shut up the shop and then you hear someone crashing around. You have always kept that golf club to hand just in case but if you go into the shop to challenge the intruder, whose side will the law be on?
The Sunday Telegraph’s recent Right to Fight Back campaign shows just how worried people are by the threat of burglary. But it also underlines who the Crown Prosecution Service recommends should go to court and who ends up before a judge.
We need to change the law so that shop owners and householders understand that they can use force to protect themselves, their families and their property and that they will not be subject to months of anguish while waiting to go in front of a judge who then tells them they should not have been charged in the first place.
I am not suggesting my Private Member’s Bill will permit you to do what you like to an intruder as the laws do in, say, Oklahoma. But what I am saying is that this new law will prove a powerful deterrent to burglars and should tip the balance of the law away from the criminal and back to the victim.
Currently, the fear of imprisonment and physical harm lies with the shopkeeper and not with the intruder. This has to change. Sir John Stevens, the London Metropolitan Police Commissioner, has endorsed this change and many senior policemen agree.
No sooner had I gone public with this Bill than I began to receive texts from my local police in Nottinghamshire saying how much they supported it. They made two points. First, burglars know that shop owners and householders are likely to stay their hands.
This only serves to make the burglar bolder. But if the law changes and the intruder knows he is much more likely to get a hostile reception once he steps over your threshold, then burglaries will decrease.
The second point follows naturally. If burglaries decrease, then the likelihood of bloody confrontation on someone’s premises will decrease.
Currently the law allows for reasonable force to be used. In support of everything that Conservative Party leader Michael Howard and shadow home secretary David Davis have been saying about law and order, I intend to borrow the phrase “grossly disproportionate” from civil law and transpose it to criminal law. This has been criticised as making no real difference to
the law as it stands - but I suggest that it would. For instance, in Gloucester last month a case was dismissed in which a householder had tackled a burglar and the thief had ended up in hospital. The case came to court and very sensibly, the judge dismissed it.
Clearly, the CPS interpreted this as an act of unreasonable force, but under my Bill this would be well below the threshold of “grossly disproportionate” force and would get nowhere near the courtroom.
But will this not mean that criminals will simply arm themselves in readiness for a fight? Certainly, there are many instances of both criminals and householders being armed in America, but I suggest that any comparison with the US is misleading. The majority of burglaries in this country are carried out by youngsters who are trying to finance a drug habit. Most burglaries are not sophisticated, well planned operations, they are half-thought-through crimes of opportunity. Any burglar who chooses to arm himself for this sort of crime puts the offence into a completely different category and that is why any change in the law that will deter him further has got to make sense.
Of course, we are not abandoning the shopkeeper to look after himself. Along with the sorts of changes in the law that I am proposing, we will only get on top of crime if we put more police on the beat.
It is time to change the law so that it is on the side of the law-abiding person who only wants to do the most natural thing in the world - defend his family, his property and his livelihood.