Magazine article The Spectator

Pre-Emptive Force

Magazine article The Spectator

Pre-Emptive Force

Article excerpt

It is a sad sign of the times that a man who shot a burglar dead and wounded another should have become a national hero. The frustration that millions of householders feel about the inability or unwillingness of the British state to perform its one indispensable function - namely to protect the person and property of its citizens, despite its consumption of nearly half the country's economic product - has turned Tony Martin, who was released this week, into a symbol of decency, common sense and middle-class revolt. The fact is that many a law-abiding person rejoiced to hear that Mr Martin shot his intruder dead, and wished only that a few more burglars might be shot pour encourager les autres.

Throughout the case, the British legal system has given the impression, no doubt erroneous, that it is neutral between the burglar and the burgled: or, if anything, that it inclines to the side of the burglar. Mr Martin was treated with exemplary severity, while the burglar whom he wounded was treated with exemplary leniency. Mr Martin, whose property had been burgled on many occasions without the fact ever arousing the interest of the police, was kept in prison for a long time because he refused to express a regret or remorse for the death of his intruder that he did not feel; while the burglar whom he wounded - a career criminal who has by his conduct made it abundantly clear that he intends to lead not merely a useless but also a harmful existence - was released early from his latest sentence and given leave to sue Mr Martin for the injuries caused by the shot that Mr Martin implanted in him. This very fact implies that the burgled have a duty of care towards the burglar, a preposterous notion that Mr Blunkett, the Home Secretary, is rightly about to extinguish from the law. He should go further. After all, the rate of burglary has risen since Mr Martin was treated so harshly and his intruder so leniently, thus giving heart to the burglars of Britain.

As the law stands at the moment, a householder may use reasonable force in protecting his property against an intruder. This may once have been a reasonable provision, in the days (if they ever existed) when burglars were as they appeared in cartoons, dressed in hooped jerseys and carrying a bag marked 'Swag' and who, when caught, remarked, 'It's a fair cop, guv.' But the reality nowadays is completely different: a very high percentage of our youth carry knives even when not engaged in criminal activities, and the spread of guns since the lifting of the Iron Curtain has become general. …

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