It's the thought everyone dreads: it's late at night and you hear a loud thud or a window smash downstairs. What do you do?
But if it happens to you - heaven forbid - then what can you do?
What the law says in the UK
According to GOV. UK, the UK government's official legal advice is as follows:
"You can use reasonable force to protect yourself or others if a crime is taking place inside your home.
"This means you can use reasonable force to 'protect yourself ‘in the heat of the moment’"
* But there’s no specific definition of ‘reasonable force’ - it depends on the circumstances.
In short, the more fear you felt, or more extreme you felt the danger was, the more force you can legally use to defend yourself or someone else. If a crime occurs inside your home, you will be able to call on the heightened defence for homeowners, which gives you more legal protection to use force, as long as the force is not grossly disproportionate.
If you only did what you honestly thought was necessary at the time, this would provide strong evidence that you acted within the law, says Gov.uk
Do you have to be attacked first?
You don’t have to wait to be attacked before defending yourself in your home, says Gov.uk
However, you could be prosecuted if, for example, you:
* carry on attacking the intruder even if you’re no longer in danger
* pre-plan a trap for someone - rather than involve the police
Can you chase after an intruder?
Yes, you can stop an intruder running off - eg tackle them to the ground, which would likely be considered reasonable force, says the CPS.
What if the intruder dies?
It may still be classed as reasonable force - or it may not. It depends on whether the action taken in the first place was reasonable force. The CPS states:
"The final consequences of a course may not be relevant to the issue as to whether the force used was reasonable. Although, the conduct of the suspect resulted in severe injuries to another or even death, this conduct may well have been reasonable in the circumstances. On the other hand, the infliction of very superficial or minor injuries may have been a product of simple good fortune rather than intention."
What if an intruder is in the garden?
The law permits use of a reasonable force to defend yourself or another person from a crime. However, the heightened defence for an intruder inside your home only applies if the intruder enters your home or is on the threshold, e.g. within a doorframe or windowframe.
The CPS states:
Householders are only permitted to rely on the heightened defence for householders if:
"1) The are using force to defend themselves or others. They cannot seek to rely on the defence if they were acting for another purpose, such as protecting their property, although the law on the use of reasonable force will continue to apply in these circumstances.
2) They are in or partly in a building or part of a building (e.g a flat) or is forces accommodation. For these purposes, the definition of a 'building' includes vehicles or vessels, so that people who live in caravans or houseboats can benefit from the heightened protection.
"The term 'in or partly in a building' is used to protect householders who might be confronted by an intruder on the threshold of their home, climbing in through a window perhaps.
"But householders cannot rely on the heightened defence if the confrontation occurred wholly outside the building, for example in the garden. The Government considered that the immediacy of the threat posed by an intruder is greatest when he is entering or has entered somebody's home and the heightened defence is only available to householders in those cases."