Kenneth Hugill Acquittal Proves the UK Doesn’t Always Crucify Subjects Who Defend Themselves with Guns

Reader Gabriel C. writes:

TTAG regularly features articles and commentary pointing out the poor situation for gun owners in the UK, and criticising British self defence laws.

While Mr. Kenneth Hugill’s case is an unusual one (DGUs are very rare in the UK, at least in part due to the low rate of gun ownership), cases such as this show that the legal system isn’t always determined to crucify those who use force in legitimate defence of property and self.

The laws on self defence in the UK are of course open to criticism, but are not as dire as some TTAG readers believe. In outline, there is a triple-lock test for whether the use of force can be justified. Any use of force must be:

(a) minimal,
(b) reasonable, and
(c) proportionate

What this means in practice is that:

(a) whatever force is used should be the minimum necessary to prevent harm;
(b) it must be in a situation where “a reasonable person” would believe that the use of force was necessary to prevent the harm and no other means existed; and
(c) the force used should be proportionate to the harm that would otherwise occur (eg. beating on somebody for using rude language is not justified, but using deadly force against apprehended deadly force is justified).

As a gun-owning Brit, one who works in armed security in hostile environments overseas, I am very sympathetic to TTAG’s critiquing the laws around gun ownership in the UK.

I also agree that there is a serious problem with laws that prohibit the ownership of any kind of weapon for the purpose of self defence: self evidently this disadvantages the law-abiding, who may be facing an armed criminal.

But this case shows that a legally owned firearm is used in a legitimate DGU, the legal system is capable of recognising the facts.

There is a high standard to be met when using force in self defence, but that is not in itself a bad thing. In essence it mandates the use of force as an absolute last resort – something with which any responsible gun owner would likely agree.

I’m delighted that Mr. Hugill was acquitted, and wish him well for the future. And for the US People of the Gun, at least this is one example of the British system getting it right in the end. While he should not have had to face the stress of being charged in the first place, at least a jury of his peers recognised that his actions were justified in law and in common sense.

Be thankful for your Second Amendment, and spare a thought for citizens of other countries who do not enjoy the same rights as you!

comments

  1. avatar Alex Waits says:

    1. It should have never gone to court.
    2. It was farm country, had it been in any sort of populated area he would be facing other charges.
    3. Jury Nullification played a big part.
    4. Age of the defendant, disparity of force (car), played a role.

    This is not a sign of the UK bureaucracy changing opinions on self defense, but I’ll take it, and keep praying for our ballistic brothers and sisters across the pond get the rights so long denied them.

    1. Alex, I think you are right on all counts, more or less.

      Your point about it being in farm country is true in the sense that a Police response in more populated areas would likely have been more prompt, and therefore the need for a citizen to defend him/herself might arguably be less (because they could wait for the Police)… But the virtue of a jury system is that it allows for an acquittal in cases where the letter of the law is not compatible with the material facts of a particular case.

      While this may not be an epochal change in the British legal system, it is nonetheless a positive outcome to see an acquittal rather than conviction in the case of a justified DGU.

  2. avatar No one of consequence says:

    I’m happy for the acquittal. That said…

    We criticize the antis all the time for pulling out specific instances to make a point, while ignoring the statistical whole of the situation. Likewise for using numbers without context, etc.

    This article is doing the same thing. The triple lock test seems quite reasonable on the face of it, but how it’s usually interpreted – plus the remaining body of law – would seem to be the problem.

    1. I agree that it’s an isolated case, and doesn’t necessarily signal a shifting trend in the judicial approach – but it’s not without value, since it establishes (or rather adds to) the body of precedent.

      The more often the courts acquit in cases like this, the more likely it is that future cases will be viewed in light of previous acquittals. So while I think it was a bad decision by the CPS to prosecute, the outcome is actually beneficial to the wider cause of establishing that forceful (armed) self defence can be a legitimate response.

  3. avatar uncommon_sense says:

    “I’m delighted that Mr. Hugill was acquitted …”

    If only Mr. Hugill were as delighted … having had to pay tens of thousands of dollars in attorney’s fees to defend himself.

    While Mr. Hugill managed to stay out of prison, will he manage to stay out of bankruptcy?

    When prosecutors try someone for self-defense, the resulting astronomical attorney’s fees are a de-facto fine. So, while Mr. Hugill may have avoided prison, he did not avoid the de-facto fine for defending himself. That is almost as great a tragedy as going to prison.

    1. avatar Sam I Am says:

      Is it really so different here? Doesn’t the risk of arrest and jail attach to every DGU? Do we not have ample testimony of the “good guy” ending up in the back of the patrol car? Do we not have a bundle of laws (jurisdictions) where the defender must assert an “affirmative defense”, which admits a “crime”, but with justification?

      1. avatar uncommon_sense says:

        Sam I Am,

        There are most definitely jurisdictions in the U.S. where we would be no better off.

        Assuming that Mr. Hugill was defending himself in his home, he would have fared quite well in some jurisdictions in the U.S., but certainly not all.

      2. avatar Jomo says:

        Yeah, actually, we ARE different. Even in the worst jurisdictions in the US, if it is a clear and obvious DGU (elderly man being assaulted at home), that person is unlikely to face prosecution. More to the point, we have the option in most US jurisdictions to actually have a DGU. In Blighty, you had better not have a readily accessible weapon or they will take your certificate, and you will have no weapon at all. So, on balance, I can put up with the risk of possibly going to court vs a system where you more or less have to take the beating/bullet/stabbing.

        1. avatar Sam I Am says:

          You are fortunate to not live in a jurisdiction where government prosecutors have declared they will charge and prosecute anyone who discharges a gun (outside of hunting and established gun ranges), regardless of the reason. The prosecutors announced they do not want anyone having a gun, and intend to make doing so as difficult as they legally can. Their favored tactic is the hearing delay, because of their otherwise overburdened staff, and limited resources available for relatively minor offenses such as firearm discharge; driving more cost for the defendant. Can’t say the courts are irritated by the delays.

        2. Jomo, you’re correct that the UK doesn’t want people to have readily accessible weapons for self defence. But as in this case, where a homeowner has time to get a weapon out and is forced to use it, it’s a relief to see a jury acquit.

          I am actually surprised the CPS sought to prosecute, in this case, since as you say it was a clear and obvious DGU (elderly and infirm man assaulted at his home).

          As I’ve commented on other replies, there is at least one positive to draw from this, which is that the acquittal adds to the body of legal precedent and increases the likelihood that similar cases in the future may not be charged, or if charged are more likely to result in acquittal.

          It’s only a small step, but it’s still in the right direction.

  4. avatar Hannibal says:

    ” cases such as this show that the legal system isn’t always determined to crucify those who use force in legitimate defence of property and self…”

    Actually it shows the exact opposite. The legal system WAS determined to crucify him; a jury thwarted that attempt. The fact that the jury deliberated for less than a half-hour indicates how ridiculous the case was and that it should never have been brought.

    1. avatar uncommon_sense says:

      Hannibal,

      This has to be one of your finest comments that I have ever read. I tip my hat to you sir.

    2. Hannibal: a very good point.

      I guess what I more accurately meant was: even if the system (Crown Prosecution Service) is by default set against any citizen who uses force in self defence, there are jurymen and women who have sufficient common sense to stop the process there.

      I agree that charges shouldn’t have been brought in the first place – I’m only aware of one other DGU in the UK over the last few years that took place using a legally owned firearm, but in that case it did not actually go to a charge (although the Police and CPS did take several days to reach that decision).

  5. avatar Ross says:

    He should never have been charged.

  6. avatar Specialist38 says:

    Certainly the exception to the pathetic rule. Subjects not citizens in the UK. Call it what you want, they are subjects none the less. With no colonies to subjugate, they turned on the captive populace.

    I don’t hold much hope for the UK.

  7. avatar Vhyrus says:

    If he wasn’t an 80 year old white guy with a cane he would be frying like bacon at this very moment. Don’t for a second think that was anything more than ‘lets not ruin the last 3 years of a poor old man’s life’.

    1. avatar uncommon_sense says:

      This thought crossed my mind as well.

    2. You are probably right that a desire not to ruin the twilight years of an old man’s life was a major factor here.

      But in fact, I’m only aware of one other recent DGU with a legally owned gun, and in that case the gun owner wasn’t actually charged (he was arrested for wounding, but subsequently released without charge).

      Mr Hugill’s age and frailty were almost certainly major influences on the jury’s decision, and certainly align with the second and third points of self defence law (reasonable and proportionate): a solitary elderly man, in a remote area, facing multiple assailants who use their vehicle as a weapon, is quite clearly justified in defending himself by more less any means.

      Hopefully this case will at least contribute to the body of precedent, improving the situation for others who, in the future, use force (DGU or otherwise) in self defence.

  8. avatar former water walker says:

    Well how special you must feel lecturing us poor pro-gun colonial bohunks. We are thankful for 2nd Amendment. And you Brits suck even taking this old guy to trial. May your island be oveerun with Moose-lims(oh wait it already IS)?

    1. avatar Bosko says:

      Europe and the UK will be under Sharia Law well within two decades.
      The US needs to install safeguards now to prevent the Liberal/Progressive elements responsible for the disaster from fleeing to the US as refugees.

    2. Hi water walker – think you maybe mistook my tone here. I’m certainly not lecturing, nor do I have a problem with “pro-gun colonial bohunks”…!

      I put this forward as a point of interest, relevant to the general subject matter that TTAG carries:

      DGUs are rare in the UK, and acquittals or no-charge decisions even rarer. For that reason alone, it was worth highlighting. It also makes the point that (contrary to what some TTAG readers seem to believe) using force in self defence doesn’t always result in you being locked up and the keys thrown away.

      I agree it shouldn’t have gone to trial, and I’m pleased the jury acquitted – once the wheels of justice start turning it often feels like the outcome is a foregone conclusion.

      My concluding point is that US POTG are highly fortunate to enjoy protections we in the UK do not (2A). Again, definitely not lecturing!

      1. avatar Matt K says:

        Yes, agreed: it is unfair to accuse the author of “lecturing” when he was doing no such thing, there is no need to react with hostility way to someone who clearly states he agrees with you and is on your side.

  9. avatar Simon says:

    Like others have said, this should have never gone to court. As for self-defense in Britain, some always slip through the cracks. This is hardly an indicator that things are changing for the better.

  10. avatar Desertdug08 says:

    The law is incorrect. Proportional, I think not. If a criminal whose is younger, stronger, and more capable of inflicting harm attacks me with a bat , I don’t want a proportional response. I want an asymmetric response! I don’t want a level playing field, I want to respond to his violence with greater violence. I want a gun! Maybe if enough of these thugs get DEAD, there will be a deterrent effect. At least there will be a change in the Brit victimhood mind set.

    1. DesertDug, in theory the law would recognise that your use of a gun to defend yourself against a younger, stronger attacker armed with a bat is justified.

      The “proportional” component of the test is intended to make sure that deadly force should not be used except against apprehended or actual deadly force.

      In the example you give, an attacker armed with a bat clearly poses a deadly threat – so if you can get to a gun, a DGU would in principle be justifiable.

      In Mr Hugill’s case the attackers were armed with a motor vehicle – evidently a deadly weapon if so used – and therefore the jury’s acquittal was on the basis that all components of the self defence test were met:

      (a) Mr Hugill fired two shots, with the effect of driving off his attackers, having wounded one. He did not follow up his response, but having defended himself he retreated to a place of greater safety and called for help.

      (b) The reasonable person – in this case a jury – could not see any other means for Mr Hugill to defend himself, under the circumstances.

      (c) The use of deadly force (DGU) was justified on the basis that Mr Hugill himself was threatened with deadly force, in the form of two criminals armed with a motor vehicle and using it in a manner that caused him to apprehend deadly harm if he did not defend himself in kind.

      Given how clearly this case meets the test, I am (as I’ve said elsewhere in the comments) surprised that the CPS sought to prosecute. But I am also very pleased that the court found in Mr Hugill’s favour, following the CPS’s bad decision to prosecute.

      1. avatar Sam I Am says:

        Outside of this case, I read, in UK newspapers that there are no legally authorized weapons that can be used in self-defense. It was also noted that self-defense itself is not legal, only retreat or endurance of attack. Do you have insight to share?

        1. Sam I Am:

          Basically UK law says it’s illegal to own weapons for the purpose of self defence. That applies to guns, knives, whatever. That ties in to the licensing system for firearms: you need a “reason to own” a rifle (though you don’t need this justification for a shotgun), and you can’t state self defence as a reason. Hunting, pest control, target practice or similar are all acceptable reasons.

          Safe storage laws also mean that even for gun owners, a DGU may not be practicable.

          Where it comes to self defence, the law does indeed require you to retreat or endure if possible. However, in cases where it is not possible – whether due to the immediacy of the threat, the remoteness of law enforcement, or a belief that the threat will not be stopped except through forceful self defence – then the law allows for a victim to defend him/herself.

          The point of the triple lock test is to ensure that violence is a last resort. There are cases both ways:
          • where a defender has used fairly limited force but was not justified because other options existed; or
          • where a defender has used extreme or deadly force and was justified because no alternative existed.

          On the whole, history shows that it’s likely a DGU or other deadly force act in self defence will at least result in arrest and extended questioning – but where the threat was clearly real and present, it usually ends in no charge or an acquittal if charged.

          But coming back to your point about the legality of using a weapon in self defence, basically if you own a weapon of any kind and have no option but to forcefully defend yourself against a deadly threat, it’s completely legal to use the weapon to this end.

          I feel strongly that our laws don’t serve their purpose adequately, since violent criminals are frequently armed and don’t care about the law – thus disadvantaging the victim – but the point of my original article was to correct exactly your misconception: namely that forceful self defence is not legal.

        2. avatar Sam I Am says:

          Good stuff to know, thank you.

  11. avatar Ralph says:

    One old guy is acquitted of a crime for which he never should have been charged and we’re all supposed to rejoice?

    I don’t think so.

    1. Hi Ralph, no not really – since clearly he should never have been charged in the first place, and anyway one case doesn’t prove a pattern.

      But since this site is “TTAG”, and since British laws on self defence are quite frequently misunderstood / misrepresented on here, a case like this (even in isolation) is still worth discussing.

      1. avatar Matt K says:

        Wow they really like misrepresenting you around here don’t they.
        With friends like this…

        1. Haha…! Yes, there’s a fair bit of Brit bashing whenever I get stuck into debates on here.

          But overall I think it’s worth enduring, since it’s only by making a reasoned and fact-based argument that you’ll ever persuade people. A point which is regularly brought up here on TTAG when it comes to winning over antis!

  12. avatar DaveW says:

    While this case examples when a court gets it right (in the UK), criminals still enjoy a more favorable position. According to law enforcement in England, criminals are using firearms; real and replica; more frequently with the passage of the years. More and more English police officers are being armed, and outfitted like their military counterparts.

    1. This is true. Although, when it comes to arming Police, the overwhelming majority are still unarmed even though they are increasing the numbers of armed units.

  13. avatar Geoff PR says:

    “I also agree that there is a serious problem with laws that prohibit the ownership of any kind of weapon for the purpose of self defence: self evidently this disadvantages the law-abiding, who may be facing an armed criminal.”

    Serious, indeed, especially when ‘Castle Doctrine’ was once a keystone of English Common Law, and therefore a basis for US law.

    Is it possible, after Brexit and the throwing off the onerous EU yoke, that UK law may re-visit the concept of Castle Doctrine and self-defense as a basic human right?

    1. avatar Mark N. says:

      No. It is a thoroughly British invention, intended to subjugate the populace to the will of the higher classes. Proportionality? So if a guy comes at me with a knife, I MIGHT be able to use a knife (but it is not recommended), but most CERTAINLY NOT a gun!!! Give me a break. A knife is a potentially deadly weapon, so is a gun. A gun is not a nuclear bomb, it is just another tool. Yet in Britain, it IS a nuke, and you will face prison when some 15 stone body builder with a club breaks into your house in the middle of the night.

      1. Mark, as I’ve said elsewhere in the comments, proportionality doesn’t mean quite what you are interpreting it to mean.

        Proportionality means that deadly force should only be used to defend against deadly force.

        In that sense, if someone attacks me with a knife and I am able to avail myself of a gun, then I am justified in using it to defend myself because I have already been threatened with deadly force.

    2. Hi Geoff, yes it is possible – though I suspect any positive legislative change will be slow to come.

      In actual fact Crown Prosecution Service guidelines have for several years now suggested that, in cases where a homeowner uses force in defence of self and property, prosecution may be contrary to the public interest. Clearly, as the charges against Mr Hugill show, these guidelines aren’t binding on a prosecutor who wants to bring charges… But one can only hope they are a sign of further change to come.

    3. avatar Matt K says:

      Well… here’s hoping. This thought had occurred to me and I think quite a few others.
      However, realistically, so long as elements of the Left are so disproportionately over-represented in the media and academia they’ll use their bully pulpit lie it away.

      1. Sadly I think you’re right on this one – anti gun culture is so firmly entrenched in many areas of the media and (to a slightly lesser extent) the political hierarchy that there will continue to be cases like this, where the victim is exonerated only after a long and painful process.

  14. avatar KAP says:

    probably a long lost member of the Queens family!

  15. avatar Cloudbuster says:

    Kenneth Hugill Acquittal Proves the UK Doesn’t Always Crucify Subjects Who Defend Themselves with Guns

    And the race doesn’t always go to the swift, but that’s the way to bet.

    1. Well, yes, to be fair I agree with you.

      But, as I’ve said in earlier comments, it’s still worth highlighting instances where the race goes to the slow!

  16. avatar ColdNorth says:

    In Canada we like to refer to these sorts of self-defense cases by saying “the process is the punishment”. Or put another way, “you may beat the rap, but you won’t beat the ride”.

    1. Hi ColdNorth, I think that’s a fair assessment.

      Unfortunately I think it’s likely to remain that way for a long time to come: even if the law itself is changed to recognise the legitimacy of self defence more explicitly, there are still going to be over zealous Police / CPS personnel who seek to bring charges because of their personal world view.

      But I guess that is (at least theoretically) a risk anywhere: an anti-gun DA or Prosecutor in the States, or their counterpart anywhere else in the world, still has the ability to drag a citizen over the coals for quite some time before a jury uses its common sense and acquits…

      1. avatar Matt K says:

        “the process is the punishment”. … “you may beat the rap, but you won’t beat the ride”.
        Very true, I’ll remember those, thanks.
        What it needs is 1) Damages to be paid after cases like this, full, fair and taking into account the stresses as well as financial costs. 2) Police and prosecutors who abuse their power all need to be investigated – because the cops and CPS people who did this will get away scot free, guaranteed.

        1. I agree with you completely.

          It may well be that damages will be paid in this case (though I think Mr Hugill would have to pursue that as a civil case, rather than it being an automatic outcome from the criminal acquittal).

          As to the abuse of power: I’m not saying the prosecution should have happened from a moral standpoint (it shouldn’t!) but I’m not clear that an “abuse” has been perpetrated under law, even though the decision to prosecute was highly questionable. But you’re absolutely right on the principle of the thing.

  17. avatar Dan says:

    The statement is ‘they don’t always crucify’ them but it certainly wasn’t for lack of trying.
    This man will NEVER be the same. He was drug through a very stressful experience,
    one that may have shortened what little life he has left and it’s a certainty that his legal
    defense cost him many thousands of pounds. No matter what the outcome is in a criminal
    case the citizen is ALWAYS victimized. Even if acquitted they are almost always bankrupted.
    We need to force prosecutors to bear the costs of trying innocent people. When that happens
    they won’t be so eager to ‘crucify’ citizens.

    1. Hi Dan, I agree that it’s ridiculous for Mr Hugill to have been subjected to all the stress and financial pressure of facing prosecution.

      I do not know, but assume that as a farmer he will already have insurance from the NFU (National Farmers Union) which usually includes civil and criminal legal expenses cover. Might not have done, but I would be surprised.

      It’s also possible that he could in turn sue the Crown / the Police if there is any indication that he was wrongfully handled etc. In his position I probably would not: the last thing I would want is more stress…

      But overall I agree with you that we need far stronger means of deterring prosecutions that do not serve the public interest and instead place additional stress on victims who have defended themselves.

  18. avatar Matt K says:

    “While he should not have had to face the stress of being charged in the first place…”
    Something needs. To. Done. About the Crown Prosecution Service. As many posts have noted he should never have been prosecuted, had to pay all that money and been put through all that stress – and all because the CPS (and the police!) decided to side with the criminal with a history of farm theft rather than the farmer!
    Sections of our polity have been of those who are either so incompetent that they genuinely can’t tel the difference between the criminals and the victims or they are actively on the other side, I really don’t know which. Either way there needs to be a clearout.

    1. To be fair to the CPS, they are working on the basis that two wrongs don’t make a right.

      While the jury clearly found that the CPS’s basis for prosecution was unfounded – hence the acquittal – the CPS has also charged the burglars, and they will serve their time for the offence(s) they committed.

      Hypothetically, it may be perfectly just to prosecute both parties. For instance, if someone starts a bar fight and their victim retaliates using disproportionate violence then both parties might reasonably be held to be culpable.

      In this particular case the CPS’s decision was clearly wrong, but it’s not always so clear cut…?

      1. avatar Matt K says:

        Agreed, life isn’t always good guys and bad guys by a long shot.
        And I am relieved to hear they’re going after the scumbags, as rural crime is a f*cking scandal. But decisions like the one the CPS made are still the problem here as the message is sent to the scummers that they are entitled to trespass, steal and harass without suffering any consequences beyond being caught a small % of the time. So they weigh up the odds, and it looks like a bargain price to pay overall.

        1. Matt, you’re absolutely right.

          Rural crime is a major issue in the UK, and hugely under-reported in the press. Sadly, as a result, much less policing resource is devoted to this than to other more publicised law enforcement priorities.

          That being said, many more homeowners in the country are armed (vs. urban), and this tends to have the result that when a crime is interrupted by the homeowner, the criminals make tracks pretty quickly – as compared to urban areas where violent home invasions are significantly more common.

  19. avatar Docduracoat says:

    As others have said even if you are acquitted the cost of defence is astronomical
    Here in Florida the cost to hire a lawyer will be at least five to $10,000 just for the retainer
    I don’t know about the rest of you but I don’t have $10,000 in cash just laying around
    This is an excellent argument to buy self defense insurance
    There are a couple of different companies offering this insurance the best kind is the kind that pays for the lawyer immediately and doesn’t wait for you to have to be acquitted and then reimburse you
    the cost reasonable as well

    1. Doc, given the cost of litigation in the States I would (if I lived here) consider such insurance absolutely essential. As a rural dwellers back in the UK I hold insurance with the National farmers Union, which includes significant legal costs cover.

      I hope never to have to avail myself of it, but in the event that I am ever forced to defend myself, my family or my property, it’s a great comfort to have that insurance in place.

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