More on the English Wire Mesh Story

A couple of weeks ago, I blogged about English police allegedly telling people not to use wire mesh in their windows, because it could injure burglars.

Some readers expressed doubt about the accuracy of the news stories on which I relied, so I e-mailed the Surrey Police Department for more information. Here’s what I learned.

1. The Surrey Police Department reports that it recommends against the use of “certain crime prevention measures such as the use of barbed wire,” which includes “anything with spikes or jagged edges.” “[I]f injury results on the premises [from the spiky or jagged material], the owner could conceivably be faced with claims for damages under the Occupier Liability Acts.” I assume that their advice relates to protection against burglars, since that was the context of my question. I quote the entire e-mail below.

2. The Department says that it does not recommend against the use of wire mesh. This is inconsistent with the news stories on the subject. (See, for instance, the Daily Mail story that I linked to, and the Sevenoaks Chronicle story on which the Daily Mail story seemed to be based.)

3. So as to wire mesh, we have at least two possibilities. First, it’s possible that the news stories misreported the views of the police officers who were quoted or paraphrased in the story, and that in fact the police department doesn’t counsel against the use of wire mesh (but only counsels against “anything with spikes or jagged edges”); this seems to be the view of Don Arthur (Club Troppo).

Second, it’s possible that the news stories were accurate, and that different police sources give different advice on the subject — some police officers did urge people not to put up wire mesh, because of the risk of lawsuits by burglars (as reported by the newspapers), even though that is not the police department’s official position.

In any case, here’s the e-mail from the Surrey Police:

Mr Volokh,

In response to your email regarding the recent article in the Daily Mail I can confirm that there are some crime prevention measures that Surrey Police would not recommend homeowners to consider when protecting their property and it appears the initial advice referred to in the article has been misunderstood. Whilst general target hardening measures (e.g. British Standard locks, alarm systems) are widely accepted as the most suitable way to protect a garden shed, using a wire mesh or metal grill to protect windows is another possible option. Surrey Police would, however, recommend fitting wire mesh or grilles to the inside of the window, not for health and safety reasons but simply to prevent it being removed by an offender.

Homeowners need to be aware that certain crime prevention measures such as the use of barbed wire can be used to protect property but that if injury results on the premises, the owner could conceivably be faced with claims for damages under the Occupier Liability Acts. Surrey Police defends the rights of residents and businesses to protect their property but all measures taken in furtherance of this aim would have to be seen as reasonable by our courts. It is of course impossible to give a definitive answer to every scenario but, for example, although there may be some instances where the use of barbed wire in domestic circumstances would be considered reasonable, the use of razor wire would not.

Homeowners should be aware that:

• ‘Barbed wire’ is anything with spikes or jagged edges – this includes wooden carpet gripper strips that have nails sticking out from the wood.

• Barbed wire can be used to protect your boundaries. However Section 164 of the Highways Act 1980 states: ‘Where on land adjoining a highway there is a fence made with barbed wire in or on it and the wire is a nuisance to the highway, a notice may be issued by the Local Authority for the ‘nuisance’ to be removed’. Most Local Authority Highways departments normally consider that barbed wire lower than eight feet off the ground could be a ‘nuisance’ to highway users.

• If you wish to use barbed wire on your boundaries, check with your home insurance company that you are covered if a person claims compensation for any injury caused by the barbed wire.

If you would like specific crime prevention advice then Surrey Police have dedicated Crime Reduction Advisors who can be contacted by calling 0845 125 2222.

Regards, …