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In the UK self-defence is constrained by the use of reasonable force. The idea being that retribution in the form of self-administered violence is a long way from civilised or lawful. The trouble arises from the ambiguity surrounding the term. What exactly is reasonable force? This is compounded when in the heat of the moment the primitive freeze, fight or flight response kicks in.
As a rule of thumb if a potential threat is coming toward you menacingly, you are in your rights to defend yourself. If, however, the bad guy is moving away you are no longer in danger and any retribution would not be considered reasonable. You could easily find yourself in big trouble.
This point was illustrated very neatly in two recent, high profile cases. Munir Hussein was taken prisoner and tied up with his family in his own home by burglars, after a normal family night out. Eventually, the burglars fled when the alarm was raised. At this point Hussein did not know where his teenage son was, he’d escaped and raised the alarm. He was greatly concerned that he had been harmed by the burglars who had threatened to kill family members during the ordeal.
Hussein, joined by his brother chased and caught one of the criminals and dished out a beating severe enough to break the cricket bat used in the attack into three pieces. Clearly not self-defence, as the burglar was running away, the pair ended serving time, which was reduced on appeal.
In another incident, Omari Roberts was involved in an altercation with two burglars which resulted in him using lethal force on one. On entering his mothers house for lunch he realised the house was being burgled and he ended up fighting both burglars in two separate scuffles. The first burglar escaped with minor wounds while the second was killed in the struggle. Eventually, Roberts was admonished of any guilt with the trial failing to commence.
Both cases caused great outrage and brought into question the legal protection of innocent citizens at the sharp end of crime. Both cases instigated a lot of emotional comment, with the outraged opinion of many being that the burglars deserved everything they got.
In the heat of the moment, with adrenaline flowing it is easy to reason how the outcome in each case reached fruition. Hussein emotional and raging dished out a beating, while Roberts fearing for his life fought to save his skin. In both instances the freeze, fight or flight response had kicked in with survival, for Roberts and family protection for Hussein being the prime driver of action.
Survival and family protection objectives were achieved but in only one case was this action deemed legal. Ironically, the victim of crime causing the most damage to their perpetrator walked free while the other was incarcerated. Reasonable force is ambiguous for a reason, so it can cover many situations, and in these cases resulted in the law of self-defence being upheld.
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