Top policeman backs 'right' to kill intruders
ONE of Scotland’s most senior police officers has backed calls for householders to have the legal right to kill or injure intruders in order to defend their homes and families.
Tom Buchan, president of the Association of Scottish Police Superintendents, made the comments after England’s leading police chief called for the law to be changed south of the Border.
Sir John Stevens, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, said those who defended their families and property should only face prosecution over injuries to intruders in "extreme circumstances", where they could be shown to have used gratuitous violence.
There should be a statutory duty on prosecutors and the courts to presume the force someone used in their home against a violent intruder was within the law, unless the facts clearly disproved this, he said.
Stevens, speaking just days after financier John Monckton was stabbed to death in an attempted robbery at his Chelsea home, was backed by Strathclyde Police Chief Superintendent Buchan.
Buchan said: "My own view is that if you wake up in the middle of the night to find someone has broken into your home, what are you supposed to do? I would be looking for the first weapon I could find, instead of just locking myself in the bedroom and phoning the police, wondering what to do - especially if faced with two or three intruders.
"I find it difficult to take exception to the notion that you can use reasonable force to defend yourself and your family, and if that results in the death of the intruder, I think that has to be looked at with greater sensitivity to the person who was burgled.
"But if it was in self-defence I don’t think there should be a punishment. I have to say that personally, I have sympathy with Tony Martin, the Norfolk farmer who was jailed for shooting dead a burglar.
"I am not saying we should be sleeping with shotguns under our pillows, but there has to be a recognition that people have a right to defend themselves properly and reasonably.
"The message it sends to the would-be attacker is: ‘Do not think you can come into people’s homes and people will not defend themselves with the right type of force that’s necessary’. At the moment it seems it’s the other way round. This is my own view but I don’t think many police will disagree."
Under Scots common law, which is similar to English common law, housebreaking victims and other victims of violence are allowed to defend themselves, but only to an extent deemed reasonable to restrain their assailant. If they use excessive force they could face charges of assault, or even murder.
However, there are concerns about the clarity of the law, with many members of the public unaware of what they can legally do in their own defence.
Norrie Flowers, chairman of the Scottish Police Federation, said he had "great sympathy" for Stevens’ view, but voiced concerns about how it might work in practice.
"The kind of people we are dealing with who break into people’s homes are the scum of the earth," he said. "Victims are devastated and should be able to defend themselves. I agree with the principle of what Stevens is saying to a certain degree, but to escape punishment for killing someone is too extreme. We don’t want a situation like the United States, where people can shoot intruders on their doorsteps."
However, another senior Scottish police chief, who did not want to be named, said courts already exercised a degree of discretion in cases where burglars had pressed charges against householders defending their properties.
He said: "In Scotland I think it is fair to say that already courts are not unsupportive of the idea of using reasonable force. Courts have been able to be flexible under common law."
Tony Martin was convicted of murder after shooting 16-year-old Fred Barras in August 1999, and later had his sentence reduced to manslaughter. He was released last year after serving more than three years of a five-year sentence.
The incident prompted a national debate over whether the shooting was justified.
Detectives hunting the killers of John Monckton yesterday revealed that one of the suspects dressed as a postman in order to trick his way into the victim’s home.
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