Self-defence or assault……?

A subject of relevance for all regardless of any martial arts participation. A recent story on Radio Five Live detailed how two blokes chased another, beat him with a cricket bat and a metal pole, rendering permanent brain damage; the cricket bat actually broke in three pieces! The accused, two brothers, were sent to jail after being found guilty of GBH with intent. An open and shut case, fair enough, but was it?

The ‘victim’ in this instance had been involved in a burglary where an entire family had been tied up and threatened with death as their house was ransacked. During the burglary the teenage son escaped and raised the alarm. An uncle, living two doors away, and the father managed to catch one burglar with the outcome being the two brothers received jail sentances while the perpetrator, unfit to plead to charges of false imprisonment, was merely given a supervision order.

Reports in The Sun and The Times suggest this is a terrible injustice, however, Hussein and his brother were not acting in self-defence. They left the scene of the crime, chased and caught Walid Salem and brutally assaulted him. It’s easy to be outraged, the preceding crime is horrible and can leads us to think Walid Salem deserved everything he got. He may well have deserved a kicking, but I have to agree with the Judge who said that people cannot be allowed to take the law into their own hands, inflciting instant, violent retribution IS outside of the law.

On the back of this case the Tories are trying to get political advantage by suggesting they will put the right to defend property back in the hands of the vicitm. However, this is nonsense, in Britain we ARE allowed to protect ourselves and our property, but we are not allowed to take things too far, being restricted to ‘reasonable force’. Chasing a perpetrator with weapons and beating him/her to a pulp is obviously beyond reasonable. The Hussein brothers could have overpowered Salem and simply held him until the Police arrived, thereby acting within the law.

A reasoned article in the Telegraph argues succinctly that the judge was correct in his assertion and cites instances when even fatal outcomes of self-defence are not taken to prosecution. A Hungarian business man caused a neck injury to an intruder which resulted in death, but this was shown to be an outcome of reasonable force in self-defence.

There are those that will suggest that Salem got what he deserved and the Husseins should be set free, they do have  right to Appeal. While the deifinition of reasonable force can be open to interpretation, we cannot allow vigilante style retribution to persist. If it is allowed, where will it stop, Charles Bronson in Death Wish?

The Death Wish reference is an overreaction but last week I saw a short report in the Independent outlining the number of lynchings in Guatamala. It showed a picture of a woman bloodied on the street, doused in petrol after bus passengers accused her of involvement in an armed robbery. Local media claimed 219 lynchings had occurred in 2009 with 45 of them being fatal, a quick google search provides evidence of the prevalence of Guatamalan lynchings, indicating that such ‘justice’ is on the increase. This may be a large extrapolation from the Husseins case but allowing this type of incident to go unpunished could potentially lead to an environment similar to that supporting the para-Military knee-capping justice in the 70’s. The Law provides the right to trial for everyone accused of a crime, vigilantes and lynch mobs do not.

Aside from this case, there are implications for those practising martial arts. Don’t over do it if you catch a criminal! Obviously, we have to train for worst case scenario but its important to ensure we don’t end up as the accused if involved in such a scenario.

14 thoughts on “Self-defence or assault……?

  1. The issue for me is that to most people it appears that the rights of the offender are far more important than the rights of the victim. Also when serial offenders continually offend then it is not suprising that victims fight back. If someone armed breaks into a house with intend to injure and rob do they not forfeit their legal protection. Why should the homeowner have to defend his actions that force was reasonable? Set this alongside the current environment of political ineptitude and dishonesty it is not unexpected that there are calls for greater protection for victims who defend themselves .

  2. Often there is the feeling that the rights of the offender are given greater credence than those of the victim. The trouble is in this case the victim becomes the offender and the offender becomes the victim. It’s quite clear the brothers were not acting in self-defence and the would’ve had no idea about the previous history of the burglar they caught. When they caught up with the burglar they could easily have managed to restrain him, if in the battle to do so the burglar was injured that would’ve been within the law. They beat him seriously, beyond what is reasonable, therefore they have to be held accountable.

    The burglar is not protected by the law in order to be able to carry out the crime, and he would’ve been prosecuted in this instance, except that the brain damage sustained during the brother’s assault left him unfit to plead. The punishment has to fit the crime and has to be decided by a court of law, not in any other way, otherwise we are left to the ‘justice’ of the vigilante or the mob. There are enough mistakes in the regular justice system let alone in that of the vigilante.

    I can completely understand that The Husseins wanted to protect their family but rather than untieing the other family members they chased the burgulars to give them a good lesson. In this instance the lesson was over the top and they are now paying the price, but they can appeal the severity of the sentence and will most likely get a reduced sentence. As it stands the father will be out in little more than a year, which isn’t such a long time given the severity of the assault he was involved in.

  3. I think the question here is what we all would have done in similar circumstances. Your family had been tied up and threatened with serious injury. You catch the person who had done this to your family. What person in the heat of the moment full of adrenelin and hate/fear would not have delivered a beating to the criminal?
    Surely as soon as he entered a house with the intent to carry out a serious crime the criminal should be on notice he has no protection from retalitory behavious?

  4. The criminal may very well deserve a beating, and we all may have dished one out in similar circumstances. The point is that it is not self-defence and therefore assault.

    The problem with allowing retatiltory behaviour lies in where the line is drawn. Taken to extremes it could resort back to medieval style punishments, such as losing a hand for stealing potatoes.

    Reasonable force is not perfect but it is the law in this ocuntry.

  5. Jon, you make good, valid points and yes, it should be up to the law to dish out an appropriate sentence – however, the sentencing in this ocuntry ( yours may have been a spelling mistake – mine isn’t !!) is a complete an utter joke in majority of sentences.
    Agreed, the actions of the Hussains may have been overdone but hand on heart I picture myself doing the same put in the same instance as those as I’m sure many others would. Put in the same situation as those, with knives being held to my family and the threat of injury or even death would not leave me to risk toe-rags like that to waltz off with a crappy few months sentence in some country club prison. Getting out of my bonds and giving chase to the perpetrator would fill me with enough Rage where it would most certainly not be self defense.
    I would rather risk a charge of assault then have someone violate the sanctity of my home, the safety of my wife and children and for them to get off lightly because in all honesty – that would happen. the fact he is a serial offender means that the punishment he has received in the past has certainly not been sufficient enough to dissuade him from re-offending. The Law of this ocuntry is an ass and although I wouldn’t condone retaliation I can certainly understand why it happens and would, if put in that situation, be on the wrong side of the law!!!!

  6. They did the right thing.Its a shame they had to go to prison but at least this scumbag won’t be able to terrorise anyone else. His next victim might have been an elderly person who died from the shock so they have done society a favour by crippling him.

  7. The Husseins got a sentence commensurate with the violence they inflicted on the burglar given the mitigating circumstances. The burglar would have been given a sentence commensurate with the crime, aggravated burglary, and his ‘previous’, but he was unable to plead because of his injuries.

    I think we can all empathise with the Husseins but the fact remains they went too far, it’s simple. Dishing out revenge attacks is against the Law in this country and is one we all have to adhere to or risk jail. I’m not sure the Law is an ass, it does seem to be a little lopsided at times but it’s clear – defend against the burglar but don’t inflict extreme violence on him.

  8. My belief is that this incident sends out a message to thugs. The law will protect you to the full. The deterrent effect of the law supporting the Husseins would have been considerable.
    Instead we see the police warning Myleene Klass for scaring off intruders with a knife.

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  10. Sometimes it’s hard to decide what is right and wrong. Beating a person to death is wrong, illegal and not allowed. With that said…

    Look at our system of justice. We have a system that lets criminals get off with a slap on the wrist because we have protected everyones rights a little too well. We protect terrorists rights because it is the right thing to do. We have laws that protect us but screw us at the same time. So where is the justice?

    Dirty Harry or Death Wish style? Or let our courts let them off?

  11. Of course, this is the conundrum as you say ‘laws that protect us but screw us’ – the point is that they are the laws, and we have to abide by them, no matter what our initial emotional reaction may be.

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