Vincent Cooke, a businessman residing in Manchester, hit the headlines a couple of days ago in a case that has ignited the debate regarding the rights of home owners to defend their homes. On the night in question, Mr Cooke opened the door to two men who forced their way into his home and proceeded to ransack it. Upon hearing his wife and teenage son returning into the house, Mr Cooke screamed at his family to leave and grappled with the burglars presumably fearing they would harm his family.
In the ensuing tussle one of the burglars, Raymond Jacob, was stabbed and killed. It was by all accounts, a terrible event. One man is dead. The fact that he was already a convicted criminal has resulted in many saying his death is of no consequence or loss. I doubt his loved ones would agree and whilst I do not condone Raymond Jacob's criminal behavior, I cannot personally rejoice in his death (although time will tell as to whether this was an unfortunate but justifiable result of his criminal behaviour). The deceased's accomplice faces trial for aggravated burglary and Mr Cooke has been released on bail on suspicion of murder. The incident is being investigated by the powers that be who must decide whether or not his actions were a criminal act or self-defence.
In the meantime, this deadly skirmish has provoked much debate as to whether or not Mr Cooke was entitled to 'take the law into his own hands'.
Most of us remember all too well the case of Tony Martin, the Norfolk farmer who shot dead a burglar on his farm in 1999 and was subsequently convicted for murder and sentenced to life imprisonment, described by the head of the Parole Board at the time as a 'very dangerous man'.
Although his conviction was later reduced to manslaughter, the law and powers that be made their stance very clear. The full force of the law would be thrown against homeowners if they defended themselves by whatever means and 'took the law into their own hands'.
Indeed, even in incidents when homeowners appeared to indicate a willingness to protect themselves against intruders, they would find themselves under the glare of the law.
Only last year the television presenter and musician Myleene Klass (home alone with her toddler) was cautioned by police for waving a knife from her window at intruders in her garden and told she could not brandish an offensive weapon in her own home even when potentially about to be burgled.
I remember this incident distinctly both because I was asked to commentate on it and because at the time I was sleeping with a baseball bat and knife by my bed (and fully prepared to use both if necessary) after my building had been subjected to several attempted break-ins by burglars who police described as violent career criminals and who they feared would injure or kill if necessary (not unfair concerns given the knives and other weapons left behind after a thwarted break in).
Thankfully, I was never placed in a situation where I had to use them but my intent was clear, that I would defend myself, my home and my loved ones if necessary, something that at a certain point in time could have resulted in me being subjected to legal reprimand at the least.
There has undoubtedly been a change in political and judicial thinking since Tony Martin's case and subsequent incidents where victims have been portrayed as the criminals. In an age where it appears that without real rhyme or reason the decent, law abiding, tax payer appears to be the down-trodden underdog, public outrage has naturally exploded into a volcano of fury when it is perceived that their fellow decent citizen is being punished at the expense of the real criminal's punishment. Politicians have dutifully (and predictably) reacted with (once) crowd pleasing statements of outrage. Ultimately, this has proved mere lip service and as much use to those who find themselves in the same predicament as Mr Cooke and Ms Klass as a chocolate teapot.
However, this year appears to have marked a turning point with the Justice Secretary Ken Clarke promising and indeed taking steps to push through clarification of the law in this area, outlining situations in which it would be acceptable for a homeowner to stab or beat to death an aggressive intruder.
As a matter of fact, even before these reforms have been implemented, the tide seems to have turned in favour of those whom in defending themselves have hurt or even killed their attackers. In two other similar incidents in Manchester this year, both involving individuals who stabbed to death intruders in their home and business respectively, a decision was taken that they had acted in self defence and would not be prosecuted.
Preceding these decisions was the case of Munir Hussain who chased and attacked a burglar, only to be imprisoned himself whilst his attacker walked free. It caused such an outcry that he was released on a suspended sentence after only serving one month of his original sentence.
The aptly named Lord Judge said it was the exceptional circumstances and public outrage that led to his decision to release Mr Hussain. I say Lord Judge applied common sense and reason where his predecessors ought to have.
But back to Mr Cooke. Of course his case will be decided on its specific facts and it is too soon to say what his fate will be. However one thing is for sure - and that is that both politicians and the judiciary seem to finally interpreting the law in favour of homeowners and it appears those existing rights will be clarified and strengthened in statute.
If this proves as a deterrent to burglars and a legal, if not physical shield to those who are forced to defend themselves, then I doubt there is anyone bar the career criminal or opportunistic burglar who will not welcome these changes. I am fervently hoping that the proposed reforms being discussed indicate a bigger movement towards completely overhauling and rebalancing the entire criminal justice system, a long overdue act which the decent law abiding members of the public have been campaigning for.
It is time for common sense and genuine justice to prevail and for our homes and streets to be safer.
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