I've chronicled the London Sunday Telegraph's effort at attempting to change England's self-defense laws over the last several weeks. Today's entries don't bode well. Here's the op-ed:
The apocalypse is here, in our homesThis in direct opposition to Prof. Tim Lambert's assertion that no such thing is a given. Dominic must be another "gullible gunner" I guess.
Remember Robert Symonds? It is the name of the 45-year-old Putney teacher who six weeks ago was stabbed to death in the hall of his home by a burglar. His body was found by his wife while their two children slept upstairs.
It was as a result of that incident that this newspaper launched our "right to fight back" campaign, which calls for the public to be given an unqualified right to self defence against intruders in their own homes. The point that struck me so forcibly at the time was not just the horror of Mr Symonds's death, but the fact that had Mr Symonds picked up a kitchen knife before encountering the burglar, and managed to get blows in first, then he would now, as the law stands, be facing a murder trial.
The defenders of the status quo argue that a jury might acquit, on grounds that such self-defence was "reasonable force". We argue that such cases should never even be considered as crimes in the first place.Gee, that's my assertion too!
While the public has backed our campaign - one admittedly unscientific poll conducted by BBC Radio2 suggested that 97 per cent were behind us - the Government, led by "tough on crime" Tony Blair, has been depressingly reluctant to seize the initiative. At a lunch the other day a very senior member of the Civil Service said to me: "Your campaign will never succeed. It goes against the entire administrative culture in this country."Of course it does. As I've said, once the State has made a monopoly on the legitimate use of force, they will not willingly yeild back that power.
Well, he's probably right about that. But yesterday the outgoing Metropolitan Police Commissioner, and today the Conservative Party, have declared their support for the principle underpinning our campaign.Police who could not prevent the assaults, but could show up and take a report, of course.
This is all by way of a preamble to the fact that at 7.30 last Monday evening, my wife's cousin, John Monckton, was stabbed to death by burglars who had used a preconceived and simple act of deception to enter his well-protected Chelsea home. They also attempted to murder his wife, Homeyra, who, while still in a very serious condition, would certainly now be dead, had it not been for their nine-year-old daughter's discovery of the scene and extraordinary calmness in calling the police.
I have to say that even if the law had been changed in the manner that we propose, it would have been very out of character for John to have taken advantage of it to use force against an intruder. He was the most peaceful and gentle of men. But that is not the point. The issue is one of deterrence.Precisely. His assailants could not then know they would not be resisted, if it were the right of each and every resident to use lethal force in self defense. But because they know that such action will result in probable prosecution, they know that home invasion is a safe and often lucrative activity to engage in.
In America, where householders have an unqualified right of self-defence, only 12 per cent of burglaries take place while the owners are at home. In this country, the figure is well over 50 per cent, and as the horrible case of John Monckton shows, intruders are now deliberately choosing times when they know they will encounter someone who can be induced to allow entry into a home that is sufficiently secure to prevent an easy break-in.And where "sufficient security" indicates a lucrative payoff.
When I debated this issue with the eminent lawyer Lord (Andrew) Phillips on the Jeremy Vine radio show, he argued that while the number of burglaries would drop if there were an unqualified right of self-defence "the number of injuries to householders will vastly increase because the burglars will get their retaliation in first... It is an iron rule, criminals are more violent than victims."Really? Has England really lost its "aggressive edge" to that point? Most criminals are cowards. They don't want to risk their asses, and will find an easier way to make a living. What the law in England has done is make home invasion nearly risk-free so that even cowards can engage in it.
As I pointed out to Lord Phillips at the time, we are not arguing that homeowners should be compelled to confront intruders. They can, if they wish, listen to the advice of Her Majesty's Constabulary, which is to lock themselves in their bathroom and wait for the police to arrive.Funny how that works, isn't it? Such good intent, such bad results.
Two other points occurred to me later. The first is that we should not let our behaviour be conditioned and controlled by what thugs might think or desire. The second is that Lord Phillips's argument reminds me of the former foreign secretary Douglas Hurd, who maintained an arms embargo against the persecuted Muslims of Bosnia on the grounds that to let them fight against their heavily-armed Serb oppressors would lead to "a level killing field". That well-intentioned but morally obtuse policy led directly to the first massacres seen on the continent of Europe since it was occupied by the Nazis.
(But the philosophy cannot be wrong...)
It would, of course, be better not to have to talk in such apocalyptic metaphors. But the doubling in recorded violent crime over the past eight years is a domestic apocalypse now.Pshaw! That doubling is due to a change in counting methods. Or something. The British Crime Survey says violent crime is down! Didn't you get the memo?
Of course there are measures that should be carried out which do not require the public to "take the matter into their own hands". In urban areas, it would help to see the police out in force. In Central London, for example, there is scarcely a street corner which is not being patrolled by traffic wardens. Is it too much to expect the same from the Metropolitan Police?Which is why I'm entertained by headlines of "Crime Down Even As Prison Population Climbs." Well, DUH! Prison isn't for reform, it's for punishment and to get the criminal out of circulation. We've pretty much proven that "reform" is a lost cause.
It was exactly such a policy that dramatically reduced violent crime in New York under Mayor Giuliani. He also introduced a tough sentencing policy. In this country the average sentence given to burglars by our magistrates - that is, the tiny minority who are detected, charged and given a prison sentence - is 3.8 months. Even the average sentence given to those convicted of aggravated (ie violent) burglary is little more than four years. Halve that for "good behaviour".
I am quite prepared to believe the prison reformers that a long custodial sentence does not reform a person's character. The point is that the longer such characters are off our streets the safer we all are.
Of course, even if the police were more active on the streets, and even if we had a more rigorous sentencing policy, there will still be violent burglaries, thousands of them. And at that time, no police force on earth can protect us. That is when we have, in my view, a natural right to unqualified self-defence, regardless of the law of the land.Bear in mind, the right to self defense was called by St. George Tucker in 1803 "the first law of nature" and noted that "in most governments it has been the study of rulers to confine this right within the narrowest limits possible." Welcome to England where they've done it again!
After John's murder my mind was filled with violent thoughts. I imagined his killers strung up on gibbets in Trafalgar Square, being pecked at by the pigeons. Then I received a letter from his friend and fellow Catholic, Lord Grantley, who said: "John would have wanted us to pray not only for his family, but also for his murderers, that they should repent, for otherwise they would perish, a fate he would not have wished on anyone."I'm in agreement with Mr. Lawson, but these three letters to the editor are not:
For those of us of a less spiritual cast of mind, the earthly fate we would not wish on anyone is John Monckton's own. This is time, not just for prayers, but for action.
Sir - Sir John Stevens, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, says the law should be changed to allow householders to use "necessary" rather than "reasonable" force to defend their homes (leader, Dec 4). But such a change would, most probably, swing the balance away from the householder.I don't see how that is even possible, but...
It is easy to imagine circumstances in which a jury might conclude that the force used was reasonable, but unnecessary. In the case of Tony Martin, many argued that it was reasonable for Mr Martin to shoot the burglar dead, although he was running away at the time. I suspect that fewer would argue that it was necessary. More generally, what if a householder could retreat into a secure room to escape from the intruder? It would not then be necessary to attack the intruder, but it would still be, as recognised by the law, reasonable to do so if he was invading your home.Precisely, and your point?
Sir John also says that the force used against an intruder should be presumed to be lawful unless the facts clearly show otherwise. Your editorial argues that such a presumption should be made almost absolute. At present, juries are directed, in cases of self-defence, (a) that a man defending himself cannot weigh to a nicety the exact measure of his defensive action, and (b) that if, in a moment of unexpected anguish, the defendant had done only what he honestly and instinctively thought was necessary, that is potent evidence that what was done was reasonable.Yet we've seen cases in which this was not the standard used, haven't we?
To get any closer to an almost absolute presumption would require the law to allow people acting in self-defence to use more force than was reasonable; in other words, to be allowed to use unreasonable force.No, Mr. Taylor, sufficient force. Appropriate force. Overwhelming force. Not unreasonable force. There's a difference between violent-and-predatory and violent-but-defensive, and England seems to have forgotten it.
Stephen Taylor, Northampton
Sir - Most householders would probably consider that the average burglar would be more skilled than them in the use of knives, swords and blunt implements, and so would choose a firearm as the only effective defensive weapon.An astute observation!
To support Sir John's "unqualified right to use force", shotgun and firearm certificates might have to be issued to millions of people.And the downside of this would be...?
Thousand of police officers would be needed to process these certificates and to inspect the premises to ensure the weapons were suitably stored. I would suggest that, for effective use, the best place would be under the bed, rather than in a secure and approved gun cabinet.Of course you could simply drop the useless and ineffective weapons regulations that have done diddly squat in making the country safer, couldn't you?
Centres to teach householders how to handle and safely deploy pistols, guns and rifles would need to be established across Britain to limit the number of accidental self-shootings. Without regular training, some self-shooting or wounding of others through "friendly fire" would be inevitable in a panic situation.You know Angus, we keep hearing the same kind of scare-stories here about concealed-weapons permits, that there will be "blood in the streets" and road-rage killings that just don't happen. Interesting to see the same tactics being employed across the pond.
Angus Jacobsen, Inverbervie, Kincardineshire
Sir - I would ask Sir John to direct his highly trained, highly paid police force to protect my home and family, so that I am not forced to kill an intruder.Don't worry about it, Brian. You don't have to do it. It would be completely voluntary. You could just sit back and reap the rewards of having neighbors willing to do it for you. Unless, of course, you wanted to put a sign out in front of your home indicating that you were defenseless and unwilling to protect yourself and your family.
I don't really feel up to it, however well it is regarded by the law.
Brian Farmer, Blackwood, Caerphilly
No? Didn't think so.
The thermostat in Hell won't go down low enough, I fear. The snowball doesn't have a chance.