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UK Judges Revive Right to Self-Defense

Friday, September 28, 2012

When British couple Andy and Tracey Ferrie were arrested in early September on "suspicion of causing grievous bodily harm," after using a registered shotgun to fight off a pair of home invaders, self-defense proponents in the U.S. and across the pond feared the worst. After all, in the U.K. the right to self-defense has been degraded into near non-existence; made apparent by the infamous case of farmer Tony Martin and incidents like that of British TV personality Myleene Klass. However, in a rare bout of sanity, U.K. officials have dropped all charges against the Ferries and sent a warning to would-be criminals, in what will hopefully serve as a blueprint for how such cases are handled in the future.

The incident took place in the early morning at the Ferries' secluded cottage, after the couple was awakened by the sound of breaking glass. To defend themselves, Mr. Ferrie retrieved his wife's clay shotgun, while Mrs. Ferrie picked up a nearby crowbar. When the Ferries encountered intruders Joshua O'Gorman and Daniel Mansell, Mr. Ferrie fired, wounding both criminals. It was at least the fourth time burglars have broken into the Ferrie residence. Records reveal O'Gorman to have 16 previous criminal convictions, while Mansell has eight, including a conviction for wounding with intent that landed him a six-year sentence.

Following their arrest, the couple spent 66 hours in police custody. Mr. Ferrie told the media that police threatened him with an attempted murder charge, adding, "I just crumpled. I saw myself being sent to prison for a long, long time. I was offered food but didn't eat for the whole 66 hours we were held." Mrs. Ferrie described the scene around her home as "something out of CSI." And Mrs. Ferrie's mother summed up the ordeal by stating, "They put Tracey and Andrew through hell." The couple was finally released without charges after mounting public outcry that included a defense from the couple's Member of Parliament, Alan Duncan.

Further vindication came September 26, when the wounded home invaders pleaded guilty to burglary and were sentenced to four years in prison. Presiding over the case was Judge Michael Pert QC, who rejected attempts by O'Gorman's attorney to obtain leniency for his client by citing O'Gorman's "near-death experience." Judge Pert remarked, "If you burgle a house in the country where the householder owns a legally held shotgun, that is the chance you take. You cannot come to court and ask for a lighter sentence because of it," adding, "Some might argue that being arrested and locked up for 40 hours is a trauma."

The comments were followed by those of the head of the English judiciary, Lord Chief Justice Lord Judge, who made clear, "If your home is burgled and you're in there, you have the right to get rid of the burglar." The Lord Chief Justice added, "The householder is entitled to use reasonable force to get rid of the burglar… In measuring whether the force is reasonable or not, you're not doing a paper exercise six months later… You've got to put yourself in the position of the man or woman who has reacted to the presence of a burglar and has reacted with fury, with anxiety, with fear and with all the various different emotions which have been generated and has no time for calm reflection." And in a nod to England's classical liberal past, the Lord Chief Justice cited Sir Edward Coke, stating, "A predecessor of mine 400 years ago... said, 'Your home is your castle.'"

Unfortunately, this rediscovery of English values hasn't spread across the whole of society. Two weeks before the Lord Chief Justice's statements, Judge Peter Bowers made headlines after he remarked "It takes a huge amount of courage as far as I can see for someone to burgle somebody's house," before letting a convicted burglar go free. And Gill Marshall-Andrews of the Gun Control Network criticized the Lord Chief Justice, lamenting that his comments would "encourage people to use their guns for self defense which wasn't the purpose for which licenses are granted."

Marshall-Andrews has a point. Now that the Lord Chief Justice has made clear U.K. citizens have a right to self-defense, the U.K. should allow them easier access to the means to exercise that right. Such a change might seem like common sense to Americans, but we should welcome any minor step towards sanity by U.K. officials.

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U.K. Self Defense
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