At long last: Britons will be able to fight off burglars without fear of prosecution

Homeowners and shopkeepers are to be given the right to protect themselves against burglars and robbers. They will now be allowed to use reasonable force if they perceive a threat to their property. Previously they could act only when they feared for their lives.

The surprise proposal is a response to public outrage over cases such as that of Tony Martin, the Norfolk farmer who shot a burglar dead, and Munir Hussain, who chased and beat a man who had held his family at knifepoint.

It is one of a series of reforms unveiled by David Cameron in a sharp turn to the right on law and order. As well as more life sentences there will be tougher punishments for knife crime.

Liberal Democrats were quick to condemn the package, especially the pledge for mandatory life sentences for those committing very serious offences twice.

The Prime Minister finally scrapped controversial proposals to halve jail terms for offenders who enter early guilty pleas.

Other measures include:

* A six-month mandatory sentence for adults who use a knife to threaten or intimidate;

* Prisoners made to work while inside, with earnings used to compensate victims;

* Tougher community sentences, with longer curfews, travel bans,confiscation of assets and £2,500 fines for non-compliance;

* Plans for a criminal offence of squatting.

Mr Cameron and Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke attempted to deny they were making a U-turn, insisting previous Coalition policies had merely been 'proposals'.

But in reality, yesterday's package marked not only a rowing back on sentence discounts following a public outcry, but a complete shift of tone and a bid to restore the Tories' reputation on law and order.

The Prime Minister's intervention was a crushing blow for both Mr Clarke and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, who chaired a Cabinet committee that signed off the reforms.

The father of murdered schoolboy Damilola Taylor welcomed the about-turn, but called for the Justice Secretary to be sacked. Richard Taylor said: 'Ken Clarke does not know what is going on in the streets, he does not know what criminality is about.'

The Justice Secretary now has to find £130million a year in extra savings, with deeper cuts likely for the probation services and courts.

After a series of policy U-turns, the Prime Minister claimed abandoning 50 per cent sentencing discounts was a sign of confidence, showing the Government was prepared to listen. The 'weak thing to do', he claimed, was to keep 'ploughing on' even when it became clear there was a better way of doing things. 'Being strong is about being prepared to admit you didn't get everything right the first time, you are going to improve it and make it better,' Mr Cameron said.

'My mission is to make sure that families can feel safe in their homes and they can walk the streets freely and without fear. The public need to know that dangerous criminals will be locked up for a very long time.

'We want prisons to be places of punishment with a purpose, instead of prisoners sitting in their cells. We will require them to work hard and reform themselves.'

The self-defence clause is likely be added to the sentencing bill over the next few months. Guidance to police, prosecutors and the courts will be revised to give clarity about when it is sensible to prosecute. They have previously had to decide what constitutes excessive force by using legal precedent.

With 23,000 violent crimes against householders every year, campaigners say the case for a change to legislation is growing ever stronger.

The tough sentencing rules would mean predatory violent and sexual attackers who carry out a second serious offence will face a mandatory life term. The 'two strikes and you're out' policy, first proposed by Michael Howard in 1997, will mean the most dangerous criminals automatically receiving a life term after a second offence.

Senior Liberal Democrats expressed their unease. Lord Thomas of Gresford, co-chairman of their parliamentary home affairs committee, said it would be a 'very strange thing' for mandatory life sentences to be imposed in cases other than murder.

And Lib Dem justice minister Lord McNally said: 'The longer I have been in this job the more convinced I have been we should rely on the discretion of a well-informed judge rather than Parliament trying to second-guess the judiciary.'

Mr Clegg yesterday claimed he had never supported the shorter sentences policy and appeared to blame Mr Clarke for the fiasco. He called the original plans 'arbitrary' and sources close to him insisted they had been 'badly sold' to voters.


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