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UK Politics

Bill to clarify use of self defence

People who feel threatened in their own homes will no longer have to flee and can stay to defend both themselves and their property under Government plans.

The proposed changes will make clear that people are under no duty to retreat from an attacker when acting in self defence and can also use reasonable force to defend their property, as well as themselves.

The move comes after a series of cases in which self defence has been deemed acceptable after a suspected intruder has been killed.

Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke said the changes, set out in a bill to be considered by MPs next week, would strengthen people's rights to use force to defend themselves against intruders in their homes.

Mr Clarke said: "While fleeing is usually the safest option if you feel threatened, people are not obliged to retreat when defending themselves or their homes.

"We will ensure that if you do react instinctively to repel an intruder you will not be punished for it - as long as you used reasonable force."

Mr Clarke explained in June that householders would be able to stab burglars or hit them with a blunt instrument such as a poker without fear of prosecution under the new legislation guaranteeing their right to defend themselves and their property.

Prime Minister David Cameron has promised that measures in the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill would "put beyond doubt that homeowners and small shopkeepers who use reasonable force to defend themselves or their properties will not be prosecuted".

The Home Office is also considering changes to the guidance police officers are given on when to arrest someone, in a bid to make it clear when an arrest may or may not be necessary if a person claims they have acted in self defence.

The Association of Chief Police Officers and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) are also expected to publish more detailed guidance for members of the public on the use of force, including examples of what would be reasonable force.

Under the bill's proposals, the question of whether a person could have fled would simply be one of the factors to be taken into account when considering whether reasonable force was used, rather than imposing any duty to retreat on potential victims.

This would apply wherever reasonable force was used in self defence, to protect others, to prevent a crime or to protect property.

Powers enabling potential victims to use reasonable force to protect themselves would also be extended to cover their property.

Last month, 72-year-old shopkeeper Cecil Coley was arrested on suspicion of murder after an incident at his store in Old Trafford in July, but the CPS decided no charges should be brought against him.

Gary Mullings, 30, suffered fatal wounds during a frantic struggle at the Shrewsbury Street shop.

In July, the CPS also announced no action would be taken against Peter Flanagan, 59, who stabbed to death suspected burglar John Leonard Bennell, 27.

Mr Flanagan was arrested on suspicion of murdering Mr Bennell after his home in Ethel Avenue, Salford, was broken into by four masked men in June, but prosecutors found he used "reasonable force".

And earlier this month, a 39-year-old man who stabbed to death an intruder at his home was also told he would not be prosecuted.

Vincent Cooke stabbed and killed Raymond Jacob, 37, at his detached house in Stockport, Greater Manchester, but the CPS was satisfied that the courier boss acted in self-defence as he was marched upstairs at knifepoint in the course of a burglary.

The justice Bill will also seek to toughen the laws on squatting, making it a criminal offence in residential buildings.

"Far too many people endure the misery, expense and incredible hassle of removing squatters from their property," Mr Clarke said.

"Hard-working homeowners need and deserve a justice system where their rights come first.

"Our commitment to this new offence will ensure the law is firmly on the side of the homeowner so that quick and decisive action can be taken."

But Leslie Morphy, chief executive of the homeless charity Crisis, said: "A year's imprisonment for some of society's most vulnerable and desperate people is draconian and utterly counter-productive."

Two-fifths of single homeless people have resorted to squatting, she said, adding: "They squat out of necessity, not choice, in atrocious conditions where they are least likely to be disturbed.

"These are people that need help - not a year behind bars and a £5,000 fine."

The campaign group Squatters Action for Secure Homes (Squash) said more than 95% of the responses to the Government's consultation were from members of the public concerned about the impact of criminalising squatting.

But the consultation noted that, while this accounted for 2,126 of the 2,217 responses, 1,990 of these were in support of the Squash campaign, including "squatters, people who had squatted in the past or people who knew or supported squatters".