The Right Verdict?

Here is one for the comments thread:

A businessman who fought off knife-wielding thugs after his family were threatened has been jailed for 30 months.

The case prompted renewed debate over the level of force that house-holders can use against raiders.

Munir Hussain, chairman of the Asian Business Council, was praised by a judge for his “courage” in defending his wife and three children from an attack — but then jailed for the violence of his response. One of his attackers was spared a jail sentence.

The incident occurred when the Hussain family returned from their mosque during Ramadan to find three intruders wearing balaclavas in their home. Hussain was told that he would be killed. His family’s hands were tied behind their backs and they were forced to crawl from room to room.

This is the point where the line was crossed:

Hussain, 53, made an escape after throwing a coffee table and enlisted his brother Tokeer, 35, in chasing the offenders down the street in High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire, bringing one of them to the ground.

What followed was described in Reading Crown Court as self-defence that went too far. Walid Salem, one of the intruders, suffered a permanent brain injury after he was struck with a cricket bat so hard that it broke into three pieces. Neighbours saw several men beating Salem with weapons, including a metal pole.

Munir and Tokeer Hussain, described as family men at the heart of the local community, were found guilty of causing grievous bodily harm with intent this year. The prosecution alleged that two other men also took part in the “revenge attack”. Judge John Reddihough gave a 30-month sentence to Munir and jailed Tokeer for 39 months.

Salem was gravely injured.

Salem was the only intruder caught after the incident in September last year, but his injuries meant that he was not fit to plead after being charged with false imprisonment. Salem, who has 50 past convictions, was given a two-year supervision order in September this year. He is now in custody awaiting trial for an alleged credit card fraud.

I shed no tears for Salem. He is evidently a career criminal, who committed a violent and vicious crime. It was the worst sort of robbery I can imagine, of a family home, with defenceless family members terrorised and made to fear – with good cause – for their lives.

In Munir Hussain’s shoes, I would have been sorely tempted to act as he did. I’m sure that many of us have contemplated what we would do if a criminal attacked a member of our family. We imagine ourselves hunting down the guilty, like Charles Bronson in Death Wish, and making them suffer in infinitely cruel ways – perhaps.

But it is a funny thing. People generally restrain themselves from committing cruel revenge attacks. By and large, when the identities of those who commit crimes of violence are known, they are tried, convicted if appropriate, and then sentenced. Justice is done, impartially, and authoritatively.

Munir Hussain went too far, when he and his friends chased Waled Salem down the street: not to detain him, but to exact revenge. That is what the jury, which heard all the evidence, decided.

A system of informal justice based on vendettas is unacceptable. You might think that Salem got what was coming to him: but who determined that the just deserts of robbery are permanent brain injury? If we seek to circumvent our system of justice, in which the state has the proper monopoly on punishment, then why not a counter-beating by Salem’s friends and family, upset at his harsh treatment? And then a reprisal attack? Followed perhaps by another one, in return.

We have a good criminal justice system. Juries are not fools, and usually convict the guilty. Sentences are proportionate to the offences. Victims generally accept that the system is fair. So, by and large, do criminals.

I do understand the impulse to inflict a world of pain on a man who has threatened your family. That is, however, a reflex that we must control, and if we do not, then it is right that we be punished.