The Use of Force against Intruders

It is a very frightening prospect to be confronted by an intruder in your own home but it is also a very rare occurrence.  But what can you do if you are confronted by an intruder in your home?

The issue of what you can and can’t do has for a long time been a very confusing one.

The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) and Chief Constables have responded to public concern over the support offered by the law.

The first thing you should do wherever possible is to call the police.  If you are ever faced with an intruder in your home the following summarises how the police and CPS will deal with such an occurrence.

Reasonable Force

Anyone can use “reasonable force” to protect themselves or others, or to prevent a crime or carry out an arrest.  The question of what is reasonable force is a tricky one to answer, but as long as you only do what you honestly and instinctively believe is necessary in the heat of the moment, that would be seen as the strongest evidence of acting lawfully and in self-defence. Even if you were to use something to hand, such as a weapon, this would still be the case.

Generally speaking, the more extreme the circumstances and fear felt, the more force you can lawfully use in self-defence.

Can I attack first?

Yes. If you are in fear for yourself or for others and in your own home, the law does not require you to wait to be attacked before you can use reasonable defensive force against intruders.

What if I kill the intruder?

If the intruder dies and you have used reasonable force in self defence you will still have acted lawfully.  There have been several cases in the last few years where householders have not been prosecuted when intruders have died.  However, there are exceptions: for example, if you have knocked an intruder unconscious and you then decide to inflict further injuries on them or kill them, or if you knew the intruder was intending to enter your home and you had set a trap to injure or kill them rather than involve the police. In those cases you would be seen to have acted with excessive and gratuitous force and could then be prosecuted.

Should I chase them as they run off?

This is seen as a different situation as you are no longer acting in self-defence, so the same degree of force may not be seen to be reasonable.  However, you are still allowed to use reasonable force in order to recover your property and make a citizen’s arrest if appropriate.  Firstly though, you should consider your own safety and that of others and whether the police have been called.  A rugby tackle or similar would probably be thought to be reasonable but acting out of malice or revenge in order to punish or even kill the intruder would not.

Who will you believe, the intruder or me?

When investigating the incident the police would weigh up all the facts, including the fact that the intruder caused the situation to arise in the first place – if he wasn’t in your home, he wouldn’t have been injured.

The police have a duty to investigate all incidents that involve death or injury.  They need to make sure that people haven’t just pretended there was a burglary in order to cover up other crimes.

How would the police and CPS handle the investigation and treat me?

When Chief Constables and the Director of Public Prosecutions (Head of the CPS) are considering these cases they do so as quickly and sympathetically as possible.  Where less serious injuries are involved or where the facts are very clear, the investigation should be concluded very quickly, and usually without any need for an arrest.  Where a case is more complicated, for example where a death or serious injury has occurred, then a more detailed enquiry will be necessary.  In some cases the police may need to conduct a forensic examination and are likely to need to speak to you to obtain your recollection of the events.

More serious cases are dealt with as swiftly and sympathetically as possible and the police and CPS will take special measures to ensure that an experienced investigator will oversee the case and that if it goes as far as the CPS considering the evidence, the case will be prioritised to ensure that a senior lawyer makes a quick decision.

The fact is that very few householders have ever been prosecuted for actions resulting from the use of force against intruders.

December 2010