Monday, January 21, 2002
Sadly, albeit predictably, Tony Martin has lost his appeal in the House of Lords to overturn his conviction for manslaughter

Martin had originally been convicted of murder for shooting dead a teenage burglar named Fred Barrass who had invaded his Norfolk home. Subsequently, this was reduced to manslaughter on appeal and Martin's life sentence reduced to five years. He will be eligible for parole at the end of this year

Martin has become a cause celebre and the inspiration for a support group which is campaigning for a change in the law. Whilst I agree that Martin has been the victim of an injustice (he did no more than I would have done in his shoes) I do not think a change in the law is necessary

The law in the UK does provide for a right to self-defence provided it is employed using such force as is reasonable in the circumstances. This applies even where the self-defence measures taken result in a fatality. A few years ago, Kenneth Noye was charged with murdering an undercover policeman after the former discovered the latter lurking about in the latters garden. Noye claimed that he took the man for a burlgar, feared for his safety and stabbed him to death. Noye was a career-criminal and the policeman was on a surveillance operation. He was prosecuted but pleaded self-defence successfully and was acquitted (although he is now serving a life term for murdering a man in a subsequent road-rage incident)

It is this kind of maddening inconsistency which has helped to fuel the outrage over Martin's plight and I cannot help but wonder if it was, in fact, Martin's choice of weapon that led to his downfall. Would Martin have been convicted had he used a knife or a cricket bat to kill Barrass? Somehow I rather doubt it. It is my view that Martin is the victim not so much of a bad law but of a deep, cultural aversion to the use of firearms in self-defence

I have given Emmanuel my assurance that I would not 'witter on about guns' and so I won't. Nonethless I do feel it appropriate to remark here upon the unfortunate zealousness with which the police and Crown Prosecution Service will drag householders before the courts when they have defended their homes and/or lives and also upon the deep and abiding paternalism of the British establishment which will happily give citizens a right to defend themselves and then strictly prohibit them from employing the most effective means of doing so


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