Clarke in custody U-turn on young knife offenders

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Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke last night unveiled plans for mandatory custodial sentences for 16- and 17-year-olds who threaten others with knives – just a day after telling MPs such a move would go against the way juveniles are sentenced in British courts.

Mr Clarke appeared at odds with Home Secretary Theresa May on Monday when he said mandatory sentences for juveniles were not the British way and urged caution before any such moves were brought in.

But in a statement issued last night he said such a move was needed “to send out a clear message about the seriousness of juvenile knife crime”.

The moves, which will be included in the Justice Bill when it is debated by MPs in the Commons next week, will extend proposals for mandatory jail sentences for anyone using a knife or other weapon to threaten or endanger someone to anyone aged 16 or older.

Anyone aged 16 or 17 would face a four-month detention and training order under the plans.

Meanwhile, people who feel threatened in their own homes will be able to defend both themselves and their property under Government plans.

The proposed changes will make clear that people can use reasonable force to defend their property, as well as themselves.

The move comes after a series of cases in which self-defence has been deemed acceptable after a suspected intruder has been killed.

Mr Clarke said the changes, set out in a Bill to be considered by MPs next week, would strengthen people’s rights to use force to defend themselves against intruders in their homes.

He said: “While fleeing is usually the safest option if you feel threatened, people are not obliged to retreat when defending themselves or their homes.

“We will ensure that if you do react instinctively to repel an intruder you will not be punished for it – as long as you used reasonable force.”

Mr Clarke explained in June that householders would be able to stab burglars or hit them with a blunt instrument such as a poker without fear of prosecution under the new legislation guaranteeing their right to defend themselves and their property.

The Home Office is considering changes to the guidance for police officers on when to arrest someone who claims to have acted in self-defence.