The Telegraph brings news this morning of Conservative plans to bring in new rights to defend homes against burglars. This is typical red meat thrown to the grassroots troops during their party conference. The Right have long had a bee in their bonnet about demanding freedom to maim and kill intruders even since the fruitcake farmer Tony Martin became a cause célèbre in 1999 when he was jailed for shooting dead a 16-year-old burglar at point-blank range.
Of course everyone would want to protect their families from a violent intruder but somewhere along the line it became about defending property. And the ultimate penalty they demand for this offence is summary death with the home-owner as judge, jury and executioner. Next they’ll be chopping off paupers hands for stealing a loaf of bread from the parish.
What’s bizarre about the debate surrounding the right to defend homes is the absence of consideration for any other form of defence, like the right to defend oneself against racist attack. This is a live issue given the recent spike in activity by the English Defence League (EDL) with demonstrations in Walthamstow, Rotherham and a number of other towns. Whenever there is sustained Far Right activity there is inevitably a rise in racist attacks. It happened in Barking and Dagenham when the British National Party were on the up in 2005-06.
So if the Government want to grant new rights to defend homes against burglars why not include extra protection against prosecution for defending life and limb against a hate-filled ne0-Nazis? I’m not talking about a charter go on the offensive against the Far Right, just an assurance that if a mob of racists come charging towards you the law will be on your side if you fight back. Anti-racist activists are frequently arrested not for violence but merely for assembling and stating that ‘these racists shall not pass’.
And then there’s also the issue of defending oneself against sustained racial harassment. I covered the case of Farouq Kamara in 2005. He and his family lived in the village of Stubbington outside Portsmouth in Hampshire for many years. Throughout their time there the family had been subjected to almost daily racial harassment, their sons hospitalised with broken bones in racist attacks, and Kamara’s wife routinely spat at and pelted with objects.
The case came to my attention when Kamara was prosecuted for waving a baseball bat at a group of local youths who had laid siege to the family who had been throwing beer bottles at the house and shouting abuse. Kamara’s bat never connected with anyone but he was angry at the harassment. Police subsequently carted him off in handcuffs while the youths continued to throw racists insults. No action was taken against the youths on this occasion or any other. Kamara got a fine and community sentence and the racial harassment continued unabated. Bricks through the window, paint on the walls, chips thrown at the mother and children walking in the village.
This went on, and on. Then one day Kamara snapped. He appeared with a handgun and waved it at his tormentors. No bullets were fired but he had committed a firearms offence and was remanded in custody and later handed a five year jail term – in contrast to Tony Martin’s three years for killing a teenager. At no point did Kamara ever lay a finger on anyone. The family gave up and moved to Manchester. The racists of Stubbington village had won.
If there is to be a ‘Tony Martin Law’ surely there ought to be a ‘Farouq Kamara Law’ as well? The years of overt and sustained racist persecution he and his family suffered should have counted for something. The law should have protected them. The British Crime Survey records there are over 47,000 racist incidents a year, which is surely the tip of the iceberg. Some of these cases will involve physical threats or violence, and while there is an additional penalty of an offence being ‘racially aggravated’ it would be better if the racially aggravated violence was deterred in the first place.
In other words ’racially aggravated’ should not only be a penalty against the perpetrator but also a defence for the victim should he, or she, defend themselves during the attack.
By Lester Holloway @brolezholloway