Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Reasonable or Proportionate?

I recently read an article that said that almost half the population admit to keeping a household item to hand for use as a deterrent to fend off burglars. Should we be prepared to protect ourselves against a boat burglary using a household item as a weapon. Apparently the most popular item for self-defence is the traditional 'baseball bat' (rounders with a bigger bat)  or for the wisden purist a cricket bat. Now I know and you know we all have baseball bats and cricket bats to hand, because they are an everyday household item. However, when on our boat and because we have a log burner stove I thought I should keep the chainsaw to hand.

At home or on the boat, our first line of defence are the dogs. Poppy has amazing hearing and has a full repertoire of low throaty growls with which she indicates the type of threat. I know from her growls whether I need to get out of bed or to acnowledge her alert. Last year in the Gas Street basin she alerted me and when I checked out her concerns. I could see a small group of scrotes were trying to loosen our boat ropes. A quick repetitive blast on the horn had them running for cover. However, one tripped over a bollard and limped away holding her wrist. I must admit that at the time I was disappointed that she did not fall into the canal. A couple of days later, we saw her walking along the towpath again. This time very sheepish with her wrist in a pot. I felt the outcome was reasonable and proportionate.

I am of the opinion that taking security measures to try ensure a break-in doesn't happen is the best first move. So we have a couple of the small movement detectors installed close to the front, back and side doors. They give a short sharp series of warning beeps. Inside the boat we have a full blown keypad entry alarm. The alarm on activation turns off all the internal lighting and activates a couple of strobe lights. It has several very loud ear piercing horns and is intended to make it uncomfortable for anyone to remain inside. We have a good strong concealed bolt type padlock for the back doors. We also use good strong internal locks on the front and side doors when leaving the boat.

The law is quite wishy-washy on what you can do to protect yourself and your family. Current law say that if a burglar enters your home you are within your rights to defend yourself and your family using "reasonable" force. The definition of "reasonable" might include arming yourselves in self-defence. But only if you believe lives to be in danger. But it would ultimately be for a jury to decide. There have been celebrated cases where the police have arrested house owners who have attacked burglars. There have been cases where burglars have tried to sue homeowners for injuries that they received while committing burglary. 

The government now plans a change in the law. Justice Secretary Chris Grayling said "Householders who react with force when confronted by burglars are to get more legal protection. Householders are victims not criminalsNone of us really know how we would react if someone broke into our house. You might well hit out in the heat of the moment, without thinking of anything but protecting your loved ones. And right now you're still not sure the law is on your side. I think householders acting instinctively and honestly in self-defence are victims not criminals. They should be treated that way. I will shortly bring forward a change to the law. It will mean that even if a householder faced with that terrifying situation uses force that in the cold light of day might seem over the top, unless their response is grossly disproportionate, the law will be on their side."

Even now the law is going to be fudged. Proportionate or grossly disproportionate -v- reasonable or unreasonable. Is there any difference and if there is, it would still be for a jury to decide. I favour making it a no holds barred encounter. Where I set the rules and if the burglar survives, then they should still be prosecuted.


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