Bill Muehlenberg is outraged at reports that villagers in Surrey and Kent have been told to remove wire mesh from their garden shed windows because it might injure burglars. It’s just one more idiotic example of political correctness, writes Muehlenberg … or perhaps it’s just one more example of sloppy journalism.
Here’s how the story begins. According to the Mail Online:
Residents in Surrey and Kent villages have been ordered by police to remove wire mesh from their windows as burglars could be injured.
Home owners in the villages of Tandridge and Tatsfield in Surrey and in Westerham, Brasted and Sundridge in Kent have said they are furious that they are being branded ‘criminals’ for protecting their property.
"OK, so let me see if I have get this straight", writes Muehlenberg, "It is now the case in parts of the UK that anything that might make it difficult for a burglar, or make his chances of success less possible, is now to be regarded as criminal behaviour." And a few sentences later, he launches into a humorous list of directives the police could issue to make life easier and safer for burglars.
It’s all good fun. But it turns out that the Surrey police don’t actually have a problem with wire mesh. On their web site they advise home owners to "Use a window lock on opening windows and a strong grille or heavy wire mesh." When I emailed them to ask about the news story they told me that wire mesh should be fitted on the inside of the window so that burglars can’t remove it.
While wire mesh gets the thumbs up from police, there are some things they don’t recommend. For example, they generally advise homeowners not to use razor wire or broken glass because they could be sued if someone injured themselves — even if that person was injured while committing a burglary.
From the point of view of tort law, it’s also risky to shoot at burglars. When Ted Newbery surprised two burglars by firing a shot gun out of hole in his shed, the burglar, Mark Revill successfully sued him for damages. The shot blasted a hole in Revill’s arm passed into his chest. According to a report in the Independent:
The judge awarded Mr Revill pounds 11,000 for his injuries, pounds 1,000 for ”hardship on the labour market” and pounds 100 medical expenses. But he ordered that as he was also to blame, he should receive only pounds 4,033.
The legislation that makes it legally risky for home owners to fortify their garden sheds with razor wire or broken glass is the Occupiers’ Liability Act 1984 — an act passed during the the notoriously PC government of Margaret Thatcher.