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"No, you're not allowed to kill someone just because they're in your house."

Ben Batterham has been charged with the murder of a man he says was in his house. The alleged intruder, Ricky Slater, died in a Newcastle hospital after suffering fatal injuries allegedly inflicted by Batterham and perhaps some other people.

But at least 120,000 Australians think that Batterham is a hero, not a criminal.

“I’m so fucking angry this is happening to this poor bloke… Good on Ben I would have done the same.”

“He has done Newcastle a favour and should be rewarded for his bravery.”

“We have the right to protect our homes!!!”

Batterham’s actions have struck a chord. Many people have been moved to share what they would have done if they thought their home was in danger.

For many people that includes lethal force.

There are a number of competing stories about what happened around 3:30am on Saturday night.

Early reports were that Slater was outside the house, looking in the window of Batterham’s sleeping child. This morning we heard that Slater was found outside Batterham’s child’s door holding a woman’s purse.

There is a Triple-O call which The Daily Telegraph says records Batterham chasing Slater out of the house and then threatening him before there was a fight. Yesterday afternoon, the Daily Mail revealed that Slater had previously been charged with breaking an entering offences.

There is a lot that we don’t know about this case. We definitely don’t know what was in the mind of Slater or Batterham that night. That’s for the judge and jury to determine.

But what we do know is this: In Australia, it is not legal to kill a person simply because they are in your house. Nor do you get to kill someone just because they are robbing your house. They might be making a smoothie in your kitchen or using your towel to have a shower, but that doesn’t mean you have a right to kill them.

The intruder may have a full rap sheet of prior convictions for rape and property offences. They may have an ice addiction. But that is not going to be relevant unless you knew about them and recognised the intruder (or you knew of intruders of with that history in the area) and that information made you afraid.

Ultimately, there’s no rule that says that it’s open season once a person crosses your threshold. There is no castle. This isn’t Game of Thrones.

It’s still a crime to kill people. You may have an excuse for doing it. But the law will only let you access that excuse (or defence) in very specific circumstances.

A murderer man creeps in the dark with a knife
You may have an excuse for doing it, but it’s still a crime (Image via iStock)
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In New South Wales, you do get to use reasonable force if you reasonably believe your actions are necessary in self-defence or in the defence of others. You can also use force to defend your property or to prevent a criminal trespass (but this will only be a defence to something like assault – not murder).

Even in states like WA and SA that have specific rules about self-defence in the event of someone breaking into your home, the person doing the defending must believe their actions are necessary on reasonable grounds to protect yourself or others.

What is reasonable will be very specific to a case. If someone spits chewing gum near your foot, you do not get to react as if they threatened your life.

On the other hand, an unknown person, in your house, at night, carrying something that looks like a weapon, near your kids? That is all relevant to building a strong defence for actions you feel you need to take to protect yourself, your children or your property.

The law in Australia is complex and heavily dependent on the facts of the case. But this is not the United States. We do not have laws that say that home-owners should “stand their ground” against someone who intrudes into their home.

No one really knows what happened between Batterham and Slater last Saturday night. Did Batterham reasonably believe his family was in danger? Was his response reasonable in light of his belief? Was Slater in or out of the house when he was injured? Did Batterham know that Slater had prior convictions/charges for rape and property offences? Debate will continue as to the facts of that case.

But what we do know – and what we should continue to be proud of – is there is no law that says you can kill someone just because they are on your property.

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