We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Not just about a Norfolk farmer

There is an article in the Spectator which seems a bit complacent to me:

If a violent criminal breaks into my house I, too, may react violently, but if I do so I doubt whether I shall live in fear of ending up like Tony Martin. This is because the law already accepts the right to self-defence and does so in such a way as to take into account an individual’s assessment of the threat in the heat of the moment. Strip away the Tony Martin case, which unfairly dominates all discussion on this topic, and just look at other recent cases. In November 2002 the retired businessman Anthony Spray heard somebody trying to open the door of his Cumbrian home and went downstairs, armed with an air rifle, to investigate. Seeing a figure at the now open door, he shot 19-year-old Paul Evans in the eye from a distance of four feet. Evans, it transpired, was not a burglar: he had mistaken Spray’s house for a B&B where he was staying. As a result of his mistake, Evans lost an eye, yet Spray was not jailed: he was given a 12-month suspended sentence and ordered to pay £3,000 compensation.

Riiight. So the author of this piece, Ross Clark, thinks that the case of Tony Martin, the west Norfolk farmer jailed for killing an intruder at his farm and injuring another, is just a freak, a one-off case which need offer no special insights into the rights of self defence. The Spray case, as is clear, still resulted in the householder being convicted, albeit not having to serve a term of imprisonment.

Clark’s piece is not without merit. He argues that the United States has achieved a large fall in crime due, he claims, to such factors as ‘zero tolerance’ policing, tough sentencing and the like. No doubt these have played a part but it is a distortion to suppose that America’s much lower level of aggravated burglaries is not partly linked to widespread ownership of firearms and a different approach on the part of the courts to householders using force to defend themselves.

Clark is correct to state that hard cases make bad law. He is, however, dead wrong to suppose that apart from the Tony Martin case, there are no examples of homeowners having been prosecuted for self defence. And it is abundantly clear that burglars have got the message: raiding a person’s home is a low-risk activity in Britain, as Perry de Havilland’s former neighbour, the late City financier John Monckton, found out last year.

Fortunately, we have the historian Joyce Lee Malcolm to set us straight on the real lessons to be learned from recent trends in British and American policy on self defence and the law. I urge everyone interested in this issue to read her book if they haven’t already done so.

UPDATE: In thinking through the Spray case mentioned above, I do accept that it was right for the householder to compensate a man mistaken for a burglar, but the suspended jail term strikes me as quite wrong although I have not studied all the particulars of the case, including whether the householder had been the victim of multiple burglaries in the past, like Tony Martin.

20 comments to Not just about a Norfolk farmer

  • John

    In the same vein, John Lott’s (Link)website has a section of articles that purport to show that right-to-carry laws(Link) correlates with a decline in murder rate. Also check out his commentary on the National Academies of Sciences (Link)(U.S.)study on this subject

  • David Crawford

    No way should the homeowner have to pay compensation in the Spray case.

    One, the drunken idiot was either too wasted or too stupid to remember the address of his B & B, or to be able to tell the difference between a B & B and a private residence.

    Two, when confronted with a locked front door, the drunken idiot kicked it in. A non-drunken non-idiot would’ve rang the doorbell or knocked on the door.

    The idiot lost an eye by not exercising the minimum of responsible action expected of a mature adult.

  • Pete_London

    Well here we go again.

    David Crawford – agreed. Once the door is kicked in of course it is reasonable for the homeowner to assume the worst.

    If the Spectator article is written by the same Ross Clark who writes for the Evening Standard (London daily newspaper) then its written by (my opinion) a typical immature London liberal. When I last picked up the Standard on a regular basis he was a middle aged man reporting on London’s ‘cool’ scene. Congratulations on getting through the article, Johnathan, frankly I wouldn’t have bothered.

  • Joe

    From this side of the pond it amazes me how European lawmakers try to do so much to fight human nature. Do they really think that someone at home who has to make a choice between complications with the law and being MURDERED is going to think twice about defending himself?
    Have people been that thoroughly “socially reprogrammed” as to believe that such a law is little more than political kabuki theatre that will be soundly ignored?

  • Lorenzo

    Why is it right for the householder to compensate a man who got harm while breaking into the householder home? The fact that this man was breaking into the house in error (looking for his B&B!) can not possibly be relevant as that is information only know to the householder after the fact. I have a problem with the householder having to appear in court at all let alone having a non custodial sentence and be forced to compensate the burglar.

  • Jason

    Lorenzo; that’s exactly why authorising householders to use lethal force on any apparent intruder is wrong. Intrusion into your property is not enough to establish a threat to your life.

  • Richard Thomas

    Jason: No, it is not enough to unequivocally establish a threat to one’s life but it is enough to reasonably believe one’s life to be in iminent danger, the true test of justifiable self defence.


  • People keep thinking that there’s some magic factor involved in lowering the crime rate.

    The usual suspects are:

    – tougher sentencing
    – longer prison sentences
    – fewer parole opportunities
    – tougher policing
    – demographics
    – tighter immigration control
    – capital punishment
    – improving economy
    – concealed-carry
    – armed citizenry

    and so on and so on.

    In fact, it’s all the above, not any one of them. All have taken place in the U.S. pretty much since 1990, in varying degrees and in various locales.

    There is no single thing, no magic bullet [sic] which will lower the crime rate. But as you remove all the above factors, crime will increase, and after you reach a critical mass, it will increase exponentially. That’s what’s happening in Britain now, and to a slightly lesser extent in Australia too.

  • Daveon

    …tell the difference between a B & B and a private residence.

    A huge number of B&Bs, in the UK and Ireland, are pretty much indistinguishable from private residences. Many are not even signed particularly clearly. I’ve certainly stayed in ones which would fall into this category.

    The court seems to have agreed that it was an error. £3000 for an eye and a suspended sentance actually seems pretty light to me.

    Does anybody have any hard figures available on the numbers of convictions of homeowners defending their property from burglars. Assuming the Martin case is an outlier. How many home owners have been fined/sent down for hitting and otherwise protecting their property in the UK in the last 12 months?

  • llamas

    Only to add to Kim du Toit’s comprehensive list of the aggregated reasons for lower crime rates one other possible factor, which is

    – higher rates of active religious belief or moral structure

    which is certainly the case in the US but declining precipitously in the UK.



  • R C Dean

    Based on what I have read, the Spray case came off wrong. A stranger kicks in your door, you have license to shoot them, in my book. Of course, in my house you would have to peel approximately 160 pounds of outraged dog off of them to get good shot placement, but I’m sure this could be managed.

    The fact that the stranger kicked in the wrong door is his problem, not yours.

    Believe me, in Dallas a drunk getting shot after kicking down a door would never even make it to a grand jury. If there was any commentary on it, most likely it would center on the poor marksmanship of the shooter.

  • llamas

    Just a minute, now.

    I went and read some reports of this case. It would seem that

    – Mr Evans did not mistake the house of Mr Spray for a B&B – he mistook it for the pub that he had just lurched out of.

    – Mr Evans was good and drunk at the time.

    – The ‘now-open’ front door of Mr Spray’s home did not blow open in a gust of wind – it was open because Mr Evans had broken it open, and proceeded to enter the home.

    So a drunk breaks into a home and advances upon the homeowner – that’s a bit different than the tale of innocent misunderstanding that was told by Mr Clark in ‘The Spectator’, where he makes it sound as though Mr Evans knocked on the wrong door and the homeowner shot him on the stoop.

    The judge told Mr Spray that he accepted that he was in real and reasonable fear for himself and his wife. Yet he still gets convicted for GBH?

    I’m no fan of the ‘free pass to shoot any intruder, no matter what’ school of home defence. But it seems to me that this is a case where Mr Spray’s fear for himself and his wife was ‘reasonable’, given that

    – the intruder had already used force to break in,
    – the homeowner had seen the door broken in, and
    – the intruder advanced on the homeowner

    and that convicting him of GBH is unjustified. It’s not even that he deserves the benefit of the doubt – the judge allowed as how there was no doubt, he was in real and reasonable fear. Yet he’s convicted anyway?



  • “If there was any commentary on it, most likely it would center on the poor marksmanship of the shooter.”

    Given Mr Spray shot the intruder in the eye, I’d say it was a pretty good shot! (Here’s one in the eye for ya!) The fact that the more effective end of the rifle was the blunt end in this instance is just because it was an air gun.

    Absolutely now way Spray should have had to pay a penny, chummy should have paid for a new door and compensation for distress caused by his actions.

  • Here in California, the law says that if someone “forceably and unlawfully” enters a home (by, say, kicking the door in), it’s okay to use lethal force against them. It doesn’t matter where the intruder thought he was, or what he does once he’s inside.

    I’m not familiar with the laws of all states, but as far as I know most of them have laws like this.

  • llamas

    Ken Hagler wrote:

    ‘Here in California, the law says that if someone “forceably and unlawfully” enters a home (by, say, kicking the door in), it’s okay to use lethal force against them.’

    You are mistaken. California law does not give you carte-blanche to use lethal force against any forcible intruder. What California law does is allow the use of ‘reasonable’ and/or ‘necessary’ and/or ‘proportional’ force in response to a violent intrusion. While the law includes a presumption that a homeowner who uses deadly force against an intruder was justified to do so, that presumption is rebuttable by contrary evidence.

    The statues can be confusing, so here’s a condensation of the relevant law from CA Attorney-General Bill Lockyer:


    See pages 30-31.

    So California law does not say ‘it’s okay’ – the most it says is ‘it MAY be okay’. There is no blanket justification, as you suggest.



  • Llamas:

    Actually, Bill Lockyer (who is anti-self defense) is putting his own spin on the law. Feel free to read what the law actually says here:


    Scroll all the way down to section 198.5.

    This indirectly brings up a good point, of course–the law doesn’t actually matter to governments. If they don’t like something (like self-defense) they’re perfectly willing to ignore the law and arrest you anyway, leaving it up to the expensive lawyers that most people can’t afford to rescue you.

  • Paul

    Hell no, he deserves no compensation. The intruder was STILL A BURGLER! Home breakin is home breakin!

    Here in Texas he would have faced a 12 guage. Most breakins here are when the owners are gone. Criminals know better than to break in (at least the smart ones…)

  • Euan Gray

    Scroll all the way down to section 198.5.

    It still isn’t a blanket justification. You cannot read law just by focusing ONLY on the clause you’re interested in, remember. A presumption of holding reasonable fear does not mean that the reasonable fear is in fact justifiable.

    This section needs to be read in conjunction with 198, which in turn refers to 197.

  • Kristopher Barrett

    True … but in most jurisdictions in the US, a prudent person will conclude that if someone kicks in your door, that he intends to immediately jeopardize your life.

    Using the “prudent person” doctine, it is incumbent on the intruder to prove he intends no harm immediately. One form of proof most jurisdictions accept is running away from the homeowner with one’s hands in the air, and running at full speed away from the residence.

    Most lesser forms of proof of good intentions tend to result in lawful self-defence shootings.

    Of course, prosecutors in some uncivilized jurisdictions, like CA, NY, IL, or NJ, will misinterpret the prudent person doctrine to punish peons who dare to defend their own lives.

    If you are really interested in how to properly deal with the issue of using deadly force for self-defence in the US, i would suggest buying Massad Ayoob’s book, In the Gravest Extreme.

  • Jerry

    I am utterly amazed at the willingness of people to
    try and justify punishment of an individual for protecting himself and his family.
    You may have a second or two to decide ‘gee, could I get in trouble for this ?? Forgot to study all of the conflicting laws on the subject so …………………..
    Sure hope someone will consider my actions reasonable’
    Ever notice how much that d**ned word comes up in laws. Couldn’t be so that lawyers and judges can decide what it means AFTER THE FACT now
    could it ??
    The man thought (rightly or wrongly) that he was in danger. There is no time to sit down and calmly and rationally consider all of the alternatives.
    Someone entering my home UNINVITED by force or stealth, loudly or quietly left ALL of his rights outside.