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Chris Bryant: Is not one of the sadnesses of the procedure that we have had to go through the fact that some Conservative Members have sought to suggest that we should try to restrict any investigation, prosecution or procedures towards prosecution in nearly every case? Sir Nicholas Lyell, the then Attorney-General, told the House following the Tony Evans case that any shooting incident must be carefully investigated. Surely that is the truth.
The next case is that of a Mr. Williamson. In August 1994, he disturbed a burglar and stabbed him in the neck with a kitchen knife. He was not prosecuted because it was considered that that was reasonable force.
Then there is the case of Mr. Lyon, who was cleared of
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attempted murder and wounding after firing his shotgun at a man he thought was about to burgle his allotment shed. He was convicted of a lesser charge of unlawful wounding, but the Bill would have given him no help because he was not defending a building within the Theft Act definition. Even under the Bill, that would still be considered grossly disproportionate force bearing in mind the action that he took in the situation that he faced, a context similar to that in the Tony Martin case.
In November 1995, Mr. Richards shot at a thief who was fleeing into trees with the intention of scaring him off. He was cleared under the existing law of reasonable force but I suspect that the Bill would not help him because the incident did not occur in a building and he was not acting in self-defence or to protect property but to scare people off.
In January 1996, David Kent was cleared after shooting a suspected burglar in the neck. Mr. Kent told the court that he feared for his life when he fired his shotgun after the assailant lunged at him. He was cleared under the reasonable force law. I will not go into the facts of the Tony Martin case because they have been explained in great detail today, but the hon. Members for Newark and for Vale of York and every Conservative Member have said that even under the Bill Tony Martin would have been dealt with, so they cannot pray that case in aid.
Kenneth Hall shot a thief who was stealing from his car. He was acquitted in 1996. That was reasonable force, but, more importantly, it was not in a building and would therefore not have been covered by the Bill.
In March 1998, Ted Newbery shot and injured an intruder through the door of his allotment shed. He was acquitted under reasonable force and would not have gained any protection from the Bill because it was not a building.
Mr. Khan: My hon. Friend has reeled off a series of cases in which a jury has concluded that a defendant was not guilty. Given that juries are selected from a pool of ordinary citizens, does he agree that most householders, like juries, have common sense and know what is reasonable?
Mr. Dismore: My hon. Friend is right in saying that juries have a lot of common sense, but many of the cases that I am describing never even got that far. They had to be investigated by the police, but the individuals concerned were either not charged or, if they were, had their cases dropped. Most cases did not go to a jury.
In the case of Mr. Davenport, two masked men with a hammer went to his home at midnight to attack him. He said that he was frightened for his life and stabbed and killed one of them. He was acquitted by a jury under reasonable force, but I think that the prosecution was properly brought in the circumstances of the case.
In October 2002, Mr. Barry-Lee Hastings killed a burglar. The burglar was stabbed 12 times in the back and Mr. Hastings was convicted of manslaughter. On
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the face of it, he was not acting in self-defence and what he did would probably be considered grossly disproportionate, so he would have had no help from the Bill.
Mr. Dismore: That is not the issue. The problem is that these people were not in buildings, and if they were not in a building they could not have relied on this defence. My hon. Friend makes an important point, but I think that prevention of crime here refers to crime in the immediate circumstances rather than to a burglar committing a crime next week or next month.
Mr. Faulkner, another example from 2004, was a 73-year-old farmer who shot a burglar after he had been broken into three times. The judge said that he could not be criticised for the way in which he defended his property. He was not prosecuted because he had the reasonable force defence. Mr. Cook, in a case from August 2003, used a hockey stick to beat up a group of late-night revellers who attacked his wife outside the family home. He was acquitted under the reasonable force rules, but because the incident did not take place in a building, he would not have been able to pray the Bill in aid in any case.
There is also the case of Linda Walker in March 2005. This was the famous case of a special needs teacher who defended herself heroically. She fired an air pistol at a group of youths who were terrorising her, but she was imprisoned because, under the old rules, it was not considered to be self-defence. As it took place outside her property and not in a building, the Bill could not have helped her. That is one case that might be on the borderline between "disproportionate" and "grossly disproportionate", but because the event happened in a building, she would not have benefited from the Bill in any case.
Mr. Flello: As my hon. Friend says, in that case, it is possible that the "grossly disproportionate" rules might apply, but how do we know? The thinking behind "grossly disproportionate" is so woolly that we have no idea of knowing whether it would work or not.
The promoters have constructed a whole superstructure to suggest that a change in the law is necessary to protect people in certain circumstances, but the examples that I have cited prove that their case is fallacious. In all those cases, people were either not charged or acquitted under existing law. In some cases, the new defence provided by the Bill would not apply because the events happened outside a building. In other cases, they would have fallen foul of the new law because the force used was excessive. I do not understand what
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the hon. Member for Vale of York would gain, should the House see fit to give her Bill a Second Reading today.
On 13 January 2005, the Crown Prosecution Service issued a press release, listing other examples of cases where people were not prosecuted. There was a robbery at a newsagent in Greater Manchester where one of two robbers died after being stabbed by the newsagent, but the CPS did not prosecute. A householder, who returned home to find a burglar there struggled against him and hit him on the head. The burglar later died, but no prosecution resulted from that case in Derbyshire. Armed robbers threatened a pub landlord and barmaid. The barmaid escaped, fetched her employer's shotgun and shot one of the intruders. She was not prosecuted in that case from Hertfordshire.
Two burglars entered a household with a knife and threatened a woman. Her husband overcame one of the burglars and stabbed him. The burglar died, but there was no prosecution in that case from Lincolnshire. A middle-aged female took a baseball bat off a burglar and hit him over the head with it, fracturing his skull. The burglar actually made a complaint, but the CPS refused to prosecute in that case from Lancashire. All those casesthe sort of cases for which the Bill provides protectionwere perfectly adequately dealt with under the existing law of defence of reasonable force.
Mr. Khan: My hon. Friend has provided five further examples of where the decision was taken not to prosecute. Some Opposition Members have argued that using the Attorney-General as a safeguard for prosecutions would provide greater certainty, but is it not the case that clarity in the law is what people need? Is it not more important than having a Law Officer take a decision on a prosecution?
Mr. Dismore: My hon. Friend makes two interesting points. First, he stresses the need for clarity in the law, which we have debated extensively today. However, the matter of whether the prosecution should be cleared by the Attorney-General is one aspect of the Bill for which I have some sympathy. In fact, there are very few cases under existing law where the Attorney-General's intervention would arise, but it could be a useful safeguard if a prosecution follows. I hope to return to that issue later in my remarks.
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