Is Killing Someone Who Broke Into Your Home, Self Defence?

A number of cases in the UK recently are certainly saying YES, it is Self Defence.

There seems to be a big trend in the UK this year for both law makers and politicians (including the PM, David Cameron), for wanting to clarify the law to state that stabbing a home intruder to death should never be punished. It should only ever be determined as acting in self defence.

"put beyond doubt that homeowners and small shopkeepers who use reasonable force to defend themselves or their properties will not be prosecuted"

            - David Cameron, British Prime Minister

Below we will be having a look at three cases where all of the people featured were found to have acted in self defence where no charges were laid. The defenders were deemed to have used reasonable force. All of the intruders were killed by stabbing wounds from a knife.

One other case will highlight what was NOT considered reasonable force and this person was sent to prison. This was a controversial case at the time.

Let's get into it.

Vincent Cooke

During the home invasion, the home owner, Cooke, had been taken upstairs at knifepoint by the intruder, Raymond Jacob. Whilst being taken upstairs by Jacob, there was a struggle and Cooke stabbed the intruder.

"At the time he was in fear for his own safety and the safety of his wife and son, who arrived at the house as the incident was happening."

          - The Prosecutor

The courts decided that Vincent Cooke had acted in self defence and had used reasonable force.


In this case, I doubt anyone would disagree. When criminals start moving people around, they normally mean no good. And if anyone is ever in that situation, where your wife and son arrive as this is all happening... well... In that situation, it is reasonable to assume that something very bad was going to happen either to you, and/or your loved ones.

The other key here is that the intruder was using a weapon, a knife.

This case is a clear example of reasonable force. Killing in this instance was deemed Self Defence.

Source: BBC

Peter Flanagan

Peter Flanaghan, his 27yr old son and his son's girlfriend were woken during the night, just before midnight by sounds downstairs. Flanaghan investigated the disturbance and was confronted by four intruders, one of whom was armed with a machete. When Flanaghan confronted the men, a scuffle broke out between him and one of the intruders and Flanaghan stabbed the man in the chest.

Shortly afterwards, three of the other intruders were seen carrying the body of the stabbed intruder down the street. When they heard sirens approaching, they abandoned their accomplices body on the street and fled. They were soon caught.

"People are entitled to use reasonable force in self-defence to defend themselves, their family and their property. All the evidence indicates that in the frightening circumstances that he faced, Mr Flanagan did what he honestly and instinctively believed was necessary to protect himself and his home from intruders."

          - Chief Crown Prosecutor


You've got your son and his girlfriend upstairs as you go down to investigate the sound. When you see the four men, one armed with a machete, what goes through your mind?

What would go through any normal persons mind? That is the key. If the answer to that question is similar to what happens, what happens would be seen to be reasonable at the time and the claim of self defence will probably be established.

Key factors in this case were that there were multiple attackers and they were armed, one with a machete.

Source: The Independent

Cecil Coley

Cecil Coley, 72yrs old, was playing cards in his flower shop with a 60yr old friend of his.

Four men armed with guns and knives stormed into the shop. During the ensuing struggle, Mr Coley received a number of injuries, including a serious facial injury, and his friend was knocked unconscious. At some point in the incident, one of the guns, a blank firing pistol, was fired.

"all the evidence indicated that when Coley took a knife that was on the shop counter and struck out with it, he was acting in a way that he felt instinctively necessary to protect himself while fearing for his life."

          - The Prosecutor

Coley killed one of the intruders by stabbing. Coley was deemed to have acted in self defence.


 It must have been terrifying for him. Four men armed with knives and guns. Coley was 72. Coley was outnumbered, outarmed and much older. These are all factors that contribute towards a favourable self defence decision in court. Coley had them all on his side.

Source: The Guardian

Brett Osbourn

Note: This case is longer than the others as the circumstances need to be explained.

Brett Osbourn and four friends were watching television over a drink.

Wayne Halling had been smashing the windows of other houses in the street with his fists and head, giving himself more than 90 wounds. His wrist was cut to the bone and he had sliced half through one of his toes. He was covered in blood.

By the time Halling arrived at the home where Osborn was sitting with his friends, he was, as every witness who was interviewed stated, a "terrifying sight".

Halling got in the house because one of Osborn's companions, Kelly Hinds, had heard the commotion and gone outside. The drug-crazed Halling took her for "Emma", the girlfriend who, he screamed, had "set him up". Miss Hinds recalled that he "grabbed me and pushed me against a parked car. I immediately got blood from him on my top. I managed to push him away".

Halling pursued her back to the house. Miss Hinds managed to get inside but, even with the help of her pregnant sister, Jodie, was unable to close the door against his weight or stop him from pushing his way in. He staggered along the corridor, smearing the walls with blood.

Jodie Hinds screamed "He's in the house! He's in the house!" and Jay Westbrook, her boyfriend, struggled with him, knocking him down. But he got up again and kept going.

Osborn recalls:

"There is blood everywhere, things are flying everywhere, the girls are screaming hysterically. I just don't know what to do. Then he starts coming towards me." In fear and confusion, Osborn picked up a steak knife with a 6in serrated blade that he says was on the floor. He would later tell the police: "I didn't know what he was going to do to me." Also, knowing that Jodie Hinds was pregnant, he was terrified of what might happen if she were attacked. "He came towards me, sort of grabbed me," says Osborn, "and I lunged, and stabbed him that was the only thing I could think to do. It was just the panic. He's mad, he's crazy, he's just smashed up three houses, attacked people, beaten up my friend. I didn't know what was going to happen. There's blood all over him. The only thing I could think of was to protect myself and the other people in the house."

Halling fell to the floor. Police and an ambulance then arrived: there had been several calls to the emergency services, but because of fights in Romford as the pubs closed, officers had been slow to get to the scene.

"The law does not require the intention to kill for a prosecution for murder to succeed. All that is required is an intention to cause serious bodily harm. That intention can be fleeting and momentary. But if it is there in any form at all for just a second - that is, if the blow you struck was deliberate rather than accidental - you can be guilty of murder and spend the rest of your life in prison. Moreover, while self-defence is a complete defence to a charge of murder, the Court of Appeal has ruled that if the force you use is not judged to have been reasonable - if a jury, that is, decides it was disproportionate - then you are guilty of murder. A conviction for murder automatically triggers the mandatory life sentence. There are no exceptions."

           - The Barrister

The legal situation was explained to Osborn by his defence team. Mr Bott and Mr Potter advised him that although they thought it very unlikely that any jury would reject his plea that he had stabbed Halling in self-defence, they could not, in all honesty, claim that it was a certainty. There was a small chance that a jury might decide that his use of the knife was "disproportionate". The jurors would then be bound, under the law, to convict him of murder.

Osborn pleaded guilty to manslaughter as a result of provocation. He was sentenced to five years in prison, of which three years was expected to be the maximum sentence.


This was (and remains), a controversial case. Many people felt that under those circumstances, Osborn had acted reasonably. He was with friends, including two females (one of which was pregnant and one was assaulted by Halling), he was clearly unstable, was covered in blood and had forced his way into their house.

The main difference in THIS case was that Halling was unarmed. There was only one of him. Osborn had used a knife. These are the facts that make a ruling of self defence difficult. Was using a knife and stabbing Halling five times using reasonable force? It's all too easy to look back in hindsight, a calm mind and some clarity of the situation.

Did Osborn need to wait until Halling had picked up a knife first? Would it be reasonable to feel that Halling would launch into a lethal attack at any moment? In the situation Osborn found himself in, I would assume that Halling was an immediate threat.

At any time, he could arm himself and attack. After all, where did all that blood come from? Did he just kill someone down the street?

You COULD go for the self defence plea but again, who knows what a jury would think of using a knife against an unarmed aggressor. It's risky either way.

Because this case could have gone either way, I though it important to highlight that sometimes people in genuine self defence situations go to prison due to split second decisions.

Source: The Telegraph


Let's not forget for one moment in our calm look at the facts with the benefit of hindsight, each of these cases would have been quite sudden and quite scary. They were all desperate situations where those involved would have been shocked by the element of surprise and that shock would have endured throughout.

All genuine self defence situations are scary. Someone is trying to kill you! (I hope your training scares you from time to time as well, it should).

In this state, humans cannot make clear and logical decisions. How we react, besides acting on instinct for the untrained, will largely be a result of our own training, beliefs and make up.

What are your thoughts on using lethal force to defend yourself or your loved ones?

What are your thoughts on using lethal force to defend your property?

Are they different?

Have you got weapons handy in case someone does break into your home? Will that make any attack you use with that weapon pre meditated in the eyes of a jury? That is something you need to consider. Is there a way you can store it in a place that is more natural for you to instinctively go for it? Instead of having a knife under the bed, could you store it with some diving or fishing gear in a cupboard nearby? Things like this need to be considered. You do not want to set yourself up for a prison sentence before an intruder has even forced his way inside your home.

What about after the fact?

Those three men that were deemed to have used reasonable force in a self defence situation still have to live with them killing someone for the rest of their lives. Have you considered that? Are you inhumane? Will you take pleasure in killing? Do you look forward to it? Will you regret it every day for the rest of life?

Or do you accept that in such a situation, they have forced you to respond in a way to defend yourself. They have caused it, not you. You need to come to terms with how you will mentally view such a situation. Not just pre (as in trying to build confidence to act, though that is important), but post. How will you feel about your actions after the fact?

Does it really matter what your thoughts on it are if you spend the next ten years in prison?

Such considerations are just further reasons why we need to train in systems and methods that only use reasonable force, all of the time, such as ISR Matrix. If you are training in some ancient way where you do a sweep and then do a 'finishing' move once you have the attacker is down, you are training in an old obsolete system for the realities of todays day and age.

If you train knife defence where you do a disarm and then cut the attackers throat with their own knife, you are training in an obsolete system for todays day and age.

Spend some time thinking about what you consider reasonable actions are in the event someone (or group of people), breaks into your home. Think of numerous situations. What will you do? Maybe it will help if you spend a few moments writing down all of the realistic possibilities for your area. Then consider your appropriate options for each.

Can you fall back into one room that can be securely locked, like a safe room whilst you call the police?

What are the laws in your area?

Do you ALWAYS have all doors and windows locked? Even during the day? Do you always open the front door when someone knocks?

Food for thought.

What are your opinions of self defence in the home, or about the cases above? Do you know of other cases that are controversial?

Is killing ok?

Should we be able to use MORE force during a home invasion because it is in our home?

Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Opening Image via Chris Yarzab