Householders arrested after 'burglar' is killed

Death comes days after Cameron backs right to use 'reasonable force' against intruders

Three people were arrested yesterday in connection with the stabbing to death a suspected burglar. The intruder was said to be among four masked men who tried to smash their way into the property in the early hours of yesterday.

The death comes days after David Cameron said families should "feel safe in their homes", as he promised that homeowners would not be punished for using "reasonable force" to protect themselves.

The dead man, 26, was seen being dragged away by his accomplices until they gave up when they heard sirens approaching. Police arrived to find the man's body in the street outside the house in Salford, Greater Manchester.

The three occupants of the house – Peter Flanagan, 59, his son Neil, 27, and the younger man's unnamed girlfriend – were arrested last night and were being questioned by police in connection with the suspected murder.

Mr Flanagan was said to be a "nice, quiet man" who works in a local garage. Sylvia Sharp-Cadigan, 67, who lives next door to him, said: "I went to bed at 10 o'clock and at about 12 heard this commotion, all these voices. There were four police cars outside. I came down and asked the police, 'What's going on?' He said, 'There's been a break-in.' I said, 'Is anybody hurt?' and he said, 'I can't say any more'."

She described Mr Flanagan as a worker who left early in the mornings, and said his son had a lot of visitors to the house. She added: "We are all upset because it is a quiet little street, we never have any bother."

The house, part of a cul-de-sac, is next to an area of scrubland close to a recycling centre in the Pendlebury area of Salford.

Chief Superintendent Kevin Mulligan, Salford Divisional Commander for Greater Manchester Police, said: "Clearly this is a shocking incident and a man has lost his life. However, I can reassure the community that we will thoroughly investigate what happened... and do not believe that members of the public are at risk."

The Prime Minister sought to reassure families on Tuesday, as he scrapped plans to halve jail terms for offenders who plead guilty early. He said the new Justice Bill would "put beyond doubt that homeowners and small shopkeepers who use reasonable force to defend themselves or their properties will not be prosecuted."

It follows a series of high-profile cases, including that of Norfolk farmer Tony Martin, in which householders have been jailed after attacking burglars. The farmer was jailed for life for the shotgun killing of Fred Burras, aged 16, after he broke into his isolated farm in August 1999. On appeal his conviction was downgraded to manslaughter, for which he served three years in prison.

The Lord Chief Justice, Lord Judge, decided to exercise "mercy" in the case of Munir Hussain, jailed after using a cricket bat to beat one of three intruders who broke into his home and threatened his family with a knife. He was freed from his 30-month sentence for grievous bodily harm a month after it was handed down when Lord Judge replaced it with a 12-month term, suspended for two years. The burglar, Walid Salem, suffered a permanent brain injury after the attack in 2008.

Sir Paul Stephenson, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, has said that people who tackle criminals should be celebrated as "heroes". Prosecution guidance says that "anyone can use reasonable force to protect themselves or others, or to carry out an arrest or to prevent crime".