Police want self-defence law to be clarified

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The Independent Online

The public outcry over the jailing of the Norfolk farmer Tony Martin for killing a burglar in his home grew last night after the chairman of Norfolk Police Authority called for greater clarity in the law onself-defence.

Jim Wilson's comments came as a group of Conservative MPs said people had lost confidence in the police and were likely to be tempted to take the law into their own hands if faced with intruders

The Police Federation also confirmed it had long argued that the law needed clarification in relation to householders confronting burglars.

The MPs, who all have constituencies in Norfolk, spoke out as Mr Martin's lawyers prepared his appeal. David Prior and Keith Simpson, and the former cabinet ministers Gillian Shephard, Martin's MP, and John MacGregor urged the Government to "look seriously" at the consequences of the case.

"People no longer have confidence in the ability of the police to defend them and their property," the MPs said in a statement. "They are, as a consequence, likely to be tempted to take the law into their own hands, as the Martin case, and its aftermath, demonstrate."

Earlier, Mr Wilson said legislators should address the issue in an attempt to put householders' minds at rest. In a letter to the Norwich newspaper, The Eastern Daily Press, he said: "The minds of householders across the country would be set at rest if our legislators could define with greater clarity the law which governs a citizen's right to defend his home and property."

Ann Widdecombe, the shadow Home Secretary, said the police and Crown Prosecution Service should allow householders greater leeway to use force to protect their property before prosecution was considered. "In a case where there's a body on the floor, there would have to be a trial," she said.

"But if you go down to what is far more common, which is people who are hitting a burglar over the head, then my view is that it is unacceptable that a person is at risk of prosecution."

A Police Federation spokes-man said the use of reasonable force had not been defined "in any great detail", a failing that caused difficulties in cases such as Martin's.

"The use of reasonable force to get rid of burglars has not been defined very well. I suppose it depends on each individual case what a jury considers reasonable force to mean."

Martin has said in a letter to his mother that he is "extremely strong". He wrote: "I know people are appalled out there and people who work in [prison] are all sad and surprised.

"I did become very hopeful during the trial but we'll never know why the jury came to the decision they did ..."