Today’s post has been written in response to the news published today that a suspected burglar has been shot during an incident in Worcestershire. As this is a developing story the details are rather scarce and whilst it is not clear at the current time exactly what had happened, I anticipate that the report is likely to bring back into focus the debate on what housekeepers can do to protect their properties and how the police deal with such reports.
Whilst I am going to touch on what the law says about what you can – and perhaps more importantly can’t – do if you’re unfortunate enough to confront a burglar in your house, the main aim of this post is to explain why it is the case that victim may end up being arrested along with the burglar himself.
To do this I’m going to consider the widely reported case of the burglar, John Bennell, who was stabbed by Peter Flanagan during a raid on his Salford home back in June this year. Below is the ITN report on the original incident.
On attending a report of an incident during which someone has received a serious injury or has been killed, it is the role of the police to establish exactly what has happened and under what circumstances.
Whilst media reports of incidents involving home owners using force against intruders ofter portray the matter as a black and white ‘got what he deserved for breaking in’ story, for the officers first on the scene things are rarely as simple and we need to look at the evidence in front of us to establish what has really happened.
People rarely tell us the whole truth and as such we become very skeptical about accepting a version of events without there being something to support it, without the account being tested and compared with those of others so that we can establish some idea about the account’s veracity.
Put simply, if we walk into a house and find a body and someone standing over them with a knife we can’t take their word that the deceased was a burglar and stabbed in self defence.
As we need to be sure that things have indeed happened as the homeowner has claimed, we need to be looking at preserving the scene and asking the homeowner some questions. Because we suspect that homeowner has – rightly or wrongly – killed the intruder we need to be interviewing the homeowner about the matter on tape.
For these reasons – because we need to preserve the scene, gather the evidence and interview – we need to consider arresting the homeowner as again at this point we can’t be entirely sure what has happened.
If you caught my previous blog about arrests, you might remember that we can arrest on suspicion of an offence. This means that being arrested doesn’t necessarily carry an implication of guilt, only that we have reason to suspect a person may have been involved in the commission of a crime.
Having fully investigated what has happened and taken a full account of the incident from the arrested person, we’re then likely to need to consult the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) with our evidence.
It is the CPS who decide firstly whether there is enough evidence to take the matter to court and secondly – and crucially in cases such as that considered – is it in the public interest to do so?
Relevant to the use of force by homeowners (or indeed anyone else) is S. 3 of the Criminal Law Act 1967. It basically allows anyone to use ‘such force as is reasonable’ in the prevention of a crime. The CPS have to look at the case, decide whether the evidence gathered supports the homeowner’s account of events and then consider whether their action was ‘reasonable’ in the given circumstances.
I’ve touched briefly on what may be considered ‘reasonable’ in a previous blog and will say now as I’d said then that the topic could not be done justice over several blogs, let alone a paragraph. Furthermore I wouldn’t even feel qualified to write about it with any authority, such an involved topic it is. I would say though that the easiest way to define a ‘reasonable’ use of force is that the force used was necessary and proportionate to the threat faced and absolutely no more.
Should the CPS, having considered the facts of the case, be satisfied that the actions of the homeowner were necessary, they can rule than a prosecution would not be in the public interest and any charges considered be dropped.
Crucially they cannot make such a decision without a detailed, impartial police investigation beforehand.
On the face of it I can understand that the police arresting someone for ‘protecting their home and family’ may seem contrary to what appears right. It is, however, in the interests of all parties that the matter is fully investigated so that the CPS can act to do the ‘right’ thing.