“We live in a desperate world…There’s no room for our ambivalence when crimes against others are committed as a form of recreation savoured by some with seeming impunity.”
Next week sees the final episode of yet another popular and superbly acted BBC drama, The Fall. The understated yet notorious show drew 2.5m viewers with its first episode kicking off the story of a DSI on the trail of a psychopathic serial killer, played by Jamie Dornan. One of the things I find most impressive about the show is the accuracy with which Dornan portrays the psychopathic character, incorporating most if not all of the traits I highlighted in my recent post, Psycho.
Whilst the subject matter itself is enough to strike fear even in the most macho of men, one of the most chilling elements of The Fall is the ease with which the killer lets himself in and out of his victim’s home. It’s a sobering reminder that home invasions may appear the stuff of movies but they are terrifyingly all too real.
Home invasion isn’t a term we use that often here in the UK since it’s splintered into other crimes such as robbery, kidnapping, assault, rape, and so on. So, you can imagine that the combined ordeal isn’t something you want to wish on your worse enemy.
The perpetrators of home invasions live on the periphery of sociopath and psychopath, they have no regard for their victims since they have only one objective; to relieve them of as much money and or saleable items as they can. Others, not unlike our character from The Fall, have far more sinister and sadistic intentions and seemingly all the time in the world to carry them out to their delight and their victim’s terror.
Home invasions can be random; the victim just happened to be home, or planned; the victim was selected for a specific reason. Some cases take place in broad daylight and are perpetuated by audacious characters whilst others take place under the cover of darkness. Home invaders don’t always act alone. Like a pack of wolves, they’ll ‘case’ a home for a few nights to establish patterns and then, when satisfied of the routine, they’ll don masks and force their way into their victims home with the sole intention of robbing, brutalising and torturing them at leisure.
When I say ‘force their way’, I don’t necessarily mean with a crowbar, I mean ring the bell wait for the victim to answer and then push their way in. The brazen sociopath no longer needs and invitation nor lock picking skills but just a nerve made of steel or of a drug cocktail. Kathleen Clark, a 69 year from Massachusetts, USA faced such an ordeal; she was dragged by her hair around her home until she gave up $40 and a jar full of change. “I was scared to death,” Clark said. “I thought he was unnecessarily brutal and thuggish.” Another notorious case from January this year is that of Jason Bayer from Raleigh in North Carolina, USA. Two brothers broke into Bayer’s home and not only robbed him but also tried to assault his wife. Jason jumped to his wife defence, allowing her to run for help and was shot in the back. He sustained serious spinal injuries. “I didn’t think there was a choice that night,” said Jason. “I had an inkling of what was likely to happen, and I was going to do everything I could do to make sure that wasn’t going to be the outcome.”
There are thousands of similar cases in the USA where hapless victims have been forced to do unspeakable things, often at gunpoint. The list is long as it is horrifying.
But home invasion isn’t just about brutality, it’s also about power. Many home invaders do so ‘because they can’. Invading the personal space and property of a complete stranger is forbidden, therefore successfully succeeding in this endeavour is a power boost. Home invaders are like birds; like cuckoos; they ‘move in’ to their victim’s home after ‘casing’ the place. Favourites are single people for whom they can easily establish a pattern and when that person is out (at work for example) they’ll find a way in and ‘move in’. They’ll eat from the victim’s fridge, watch TV, take baths, play video games.They rummage through personal belongings and (just in the case of our character from The Fall), move things around and leave things lying around, just for fun, because they can and because of the effect they know it will have on their victims. Like magpies; they’ll steal mementos and, If available, take keys to make copies and let themselves in the future at leisure.
This is all about power.
Again, there are no statistics about British home invasions because that isn’t how we categorise these crimes but, make no mistake, this outrageousness is perpetrating globally and for those lucky enough to survive it there’s the prospect of a long and difficult recovery process to look forward to. Because dealing with a sense of violation is emotionally painful as it is difficult. For many, their house simply no longer feels like their home; it feels tarnished and unsafe.
An Englishman’s home is his castle, so what happens when that castle is breached?
Take a second to consider… how safe is your home?
Where exactly are you reading this post? Take a look around you. How safe are you? Are you above ground level, on a different floor? If so, how high are you and is your window lockable. On the other hand, if you’re on the ground floor, where’s the closest door to you and is I lockable? Is it locked right now? If a brazen intruder presented himself in this very moment, how easy would it be for him or her to get to you? Could he just open the door and walk in or would he have to try and smash his way in?
You’ll be amazed by how many people believe they’re immune to things they hear in the news. Simply avoiding or ignoring hearing about it doesn’t make you any safer. You are just as susceptible to home invasion as you are to any other crime, the only thing that differentiates you from the next person is where you live and the precautions you take to protect yourself and your family.
I’ll give you a good example. Somebody I know believed they lived in a nice area with very low crime, statistically, yet one day she was sitting on her sofa by the patio doors when a shadow fell over her. She looked up to see a stranger standing there staring at her! They made eye contact and then, instead of running off, he actually tried the doors to see if they were open! When he discovered that they were he then turned on his heels, jumped over her fence, into her neighbour’s garden and then down the road.
Horrifying yet true.
We live in a different and desperate world. There are those who either choose or are pushed onto a path of crime and who embrace it as their destiny. There’s no room for our ambivalence in a world where crimes against others are not just a necessity but a form of recreation savoured by some with seeming impunity. Worse still, we actually have a ‘duty of care’ to those who trespass against us.
Few will forget the controversial case of farmer Tony Martin back in 1999. Martin claimed that his farm had been burgled a total of 10 times losing him approximately £6,000 in furniture. And thus, frustrated with the police’s inability to act on his case, Tony Martin sourced a pump action shot gun.
On the 20th August 1999, two burglars, Brendan Fearon, 29, and Fred Barras, 16, broke into Martin’s house but this time Martin fatally shot Barras as he attempted to flee. Martin claimed that he opened fire after being roused from his sleep when the intruders smashed a window and entered his home but this was apparently disproved by scientific evidence. Tony Martin was charged with the murder of Barras and the attempted murder of Fearon as well as ‘possessing a firearm with ‘intent to endanger life’.
English law permits one person to take the life of another in self-defence only. Although, whether or not a person used ‘reasonable force’ is for remains a jury’s responsibility. In this case, the prosecution argued that Martin was not defending himself but that he actually lied in wait and opened fire at short range in retribution for all of the crimes perpetrated against him. The jury, despite having the option of returning a verdict of ‘manslaughter’ (Martin did not intend to kill or cause serious bodily harm) as opposed to murder actually convicted Martin for murder by a 10 to 2 majority.
He was sentenced to life imprisonment with a minimum of 9 years.
Meanwhile, Brendan Fearon, a career criminal and Irish traveller, had been convicted at that point of about thirty offences, starting with handling stolen goods, burglary, drugs, auto theft, criminal damage, obtaining property by deception, failing to surrender to bail, and theft from a vehicle (the list goes on), applied for a received an estimated £5,000 of legal aid to sue Tony Martin for loss of earnings due to ‘injuries he had sustained’. That was until pictures of him ‘cycling and climbing’ were published in The Sun and the case was thrown out.
After a series of appeals and counter appeals that are believed to have cost us tax payers tens of thousands of pounds, and even the intervention of Hollywood actor, Charlton Heston (who happened to be the Chairman of the American National Rifle Association at the time), Martin was released from custody in 2003 but now lives in a secret locations because of death threats from you’ll-never-guess who’s family.
Not much ink was spared with this story as it prompted an international debate over a man’s right to ‘defend himself and his home’. Much was said about Tony Martin’s state of mind. In fact, there was a time where the parole board refused to even consider an early release for Martin because they feared he would deliberately ‘target others who dare trespass on his land’.
Now, I had to laugh when I read that because it inevitably implies that it is acceptable for scumbags to violate the privacy, the property and the lives of another human being without any regard whatsoever. I think the very
idea that a man should be penalised for defending his home against would be marauders is outrageous and dam right shameful and therefore, by association, I have to rejoice in the fact that these losers got exactly what they deserved.
On the other hand, the law is very clear on this matter; ‘reasonable force for self-protection’ is not what took place here; Martin shot the two men in the back.
Well, they should never have been on his property.
Still, that doesn’t give him the right to kill them.
And on and on…
What do you think?
But before you answer consider another case where a man found a trespasser up a ladder, leaning against his house. He pulled the ladder, knocking the trespasser to the ground. A judge found against the man; this was deemed as ‘excessive force’.
Whatever you believe, the law is the law.
Whilst the case of Tony Martin invoked a national outcry from both sides of ‘the fence’, nothing has actually changed; when it comes to irksome trespassers trespassing; you’re still unable to use any kind of physical force to rid yourself of the intruders on your property, you should instead ask the balaclava clad delinquent to kindly leave, chasing only your request with a please and perhaps a thank you. Then, should he or she refuse to leave then you are then permitted to use ‘reasonable force’ to eject the pesky nuisance. Now, I must stress that the word ‘reasonable’ is strictly subjective because whether or not you actually used ‘reasonable force’ can only be established after the evidence of your case is examined by a jury and they have deliberated accordingly. Oh, and you’re one of those people (perhaps a farmer) who basks in the proud glow of your hand painted sign stating that “trespassers will be prosecuted” then you may as well not bother; you cannot prosecute trespass as it is a ‘civil wrong’ and not a criminal offence. So, you best stick to ‘private property – keep out!’
As I mentioned previously, homeowners actually have a ‘duty of care’ to ensure that trespassers do not come to any harm. E.g. you can’t lay traps. Do so and you could be liable to a claim for compensation (as was Tony Martin). If you’re thinking of electrifying the buggers with an electrified fence you’d most likely be getting yourself into trouble if it wasn’t clear sign posted, and even then, you have the issue of children to contend with. Indeed, in the case of children, you could potentially be liable if one of them wandered onto your land and decided to quaff all of your weed killer!
On the other hand, if your neighbours plant or tree decides to migrate over your land or up your wall then you can consider this trespassing and you’re entitled to cut them down but only up and two the boundary of your homes, and you must return the hacked off limbs to your neighbour as they are his property. Trespassing isn’t just limited to your ground but also extends to the airspace above your home as well as under it, which means that if your neighbour decided, for whatever reason, to re-enact the Great Escape under your home then you have the right to ‘take action’. Conversely, whilst it may be acceptable hack off branches it is not acceptable to ‘pick’ or ‘take’ fruit fallen from those branches, this would be stealing. Also on the subject of trees, if your neighbour’s tree is casting darkness over your land but none of its branches are hanging over it then it’s highly unlikely you’ll be able to do anything about it. There is no general ‘right to light’. Although there may be mitigating circumstances if there was pre-existing access to light which would otherwise be blocked by the actions of your neighbour. This, of course, does not apply to rights under the High Hedges Law of 2005.
The law may well be an ass but I guess it’s like life; sometimes you’re up and sometimes you’re down. Some things are simply out of our control. What isn’t out of our control is the right to take precautions against the unwanted attention of an intruder but ensuring that our land and our homes are adequately secured and locked shut against would be trespassers and our own complacency because we, unlike our American cousins, do not have the right to shoot a trespasser if we feel he or she is endangering us or our property.
Whether or not we would benefit from such a right is undoubtedly the subject of lengthy debate and philosophising and ultimately your own personal opinion.
Take care of your world and each other.
Have a safe Sunday 🙂