How the Justice Secretary wrongly bowed to tabloids over the OAP who killed a burglar

The Sun is petitioning for the murder investigation into Richard Osborn-Brooks, 78, to be dropped.

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The death of Harry Vincent, killed by 78-year-old pensioner Richard Osborn-Brooks, has taken on a political dimension after the Justice Secretary, David Gauke, said that people should feel to defend themselves in their own homes. (Osborn-Brooks has been arrested and released on bail. The Sun is running a petition calling for the murder investigation to be dropped.)

Of course, the truth is that homeowners – and renters, too, for that matter – are allowed to defend themselves provided they use “reasonable force”. And, of course, if I phone up the police, tell them I have killed someone in my flat but they were breaking in, for obvious reasons, the police have to investigate rather than take my word for it.

Don’t forget that Tony Martin, the farmer who shot and killed a burglar in 2000, the last time this issue was on the political agenda, told the police that he had fired in self-defence but a jury found that he had laid in wait for the robbers and fired without warning.

In this case, if it turns out that Osborn-Brooks’ account of events is true, the charges will likely be dropped – not because of a petition in a tabloid newspaper but because that’s how the law works, though I doubt that will stop the Sun from declaring victory should that happen.

We hear a lot about fake news, as if this were a problem that cropped up only in the 2016 and 2017 elections. There is a real problem with news stories that have, at best, a sketchy relationship with the truth being spread by new blogs on the Internet. But there is also a real problem of news stories that have, at best, a sketchy relationship with the truth being spread by old newspapers on the Internet and in print.

How disappointing that Gauke couldn’t do what a Lord Chancellor should, and explain how and why the law works, rather than bending in the wind with the tabloid mood.

Stephen Bush is political editor of the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.