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Principles of Self Defence

This is the second of three posts where I look at problems farmers have with dogs and people. The first post looked at Coursing and some of illegal, the law old and new. This post will look at fear of coursers, others and physical altercations and how to avoid conflict and protect yourself. The final post will look at livestock worrying.

It is rather sad that I have in the last few months known three people that have been attacked, with one of those deciding to leave the area after being beaten and his dog killed. It is with this in mind that I share these points with care. You choose whether to follow them or not and have to live with the consequences. If you expect me to advocate the use of violence you will be disappointed for that is a last resort and risks failure.

I also find it alarming at the number of country people that are now living in fear, as fear of crime or attack can be worse than the act itself in terms of its impact. As a reported crime in proportion to population size violence tends to be less common than previous generations. You only need to look at newspapers of the last 150 years or so to realise this. Although court reporting is more distant nowadays as magistrates become ever less local. You can be your own measure of whether a fear is justified by considering how many times you yourself have been involved in or witnessed an act of violence or crime. This is the best measure and is so much better than statistics and hearsay.

In 1987 I found myself in a disused room close to the River Welland receiving “self-defence” lessons from a thin old man with a Slavic accent in his seventies. Of the seven lessons, much to my surprise only the last two dealt with any physical contact or altercation. What he taught was a mindset and actions to prevent attack and violence. He was an interesting character that had survived German occupation in what was then Czechoslovakia to flee to Britain in 1947 as a “displaced person”. What he shared is what he had been taught in the time of occupation to survive. I will share some of what he taught which was designed for a city or town environment, but can be amended to the countryside and altercations with coursers.

The first thing he explained is that fighting and violence is a failure. It is a failing in your own defence and a failing of the attacker. The resorting to violence is usually, but not always, because threats and intimidation have not worked. This results in a physical attack. He also explained that it is human nature to avoid violence as the body is quite vulnerable and prone to injury. It is also human nature to seek dominance over others with threats and intimidation. However, the threat of violence increases as soon as a person carries a weapon as this increases their ability to attack without damage to themselves. He also explained that the chance of being attacked by a group was greater, not due to the inherent aggression of individuals, but due to their loyalty to each other and the desire not to lose face to the rest of the group. When you apply this to a group of hare coursers the risk is obvious.

Awareness – self-defence is about being aware of your environment, location and the risks around you. There is a difference between awareness and fear. If you apply awareness to a countryside situation it tends to be the absence of normal. This can take many forms, from people and vehicles that look unusual, to an unexplained quietness or noise of wild life or livestock. It is spotting footprints and tyre tracks where they should not be. It is that feeling that something is not quite right. When you live in an environment you soon learn what is normal whether consciously, or unconsciously. It is a matter of making that unconscious awareness conscious in your mind.

Avoidance – you avoid a situation by either putting distance between you and the potential attacker or by creating a barrier, usually by remaining inside a vehicle or building. You should always retreat from people carrying weapons because they have the ability to attack with lower risk to themselves therefore heightening the risk of you becoming a victim.

Engagement – you will find yourself in situations where you have to engage with somebody coursing, poaching or even robbing your premises. How you choose to do this can result in an escalation to violence. Adrenaline and anger are your enemies. The ability to smile and talk calmly are your friends. A difficult to use, but valuable phrase is, “Now then my friend…” This may not be how you feel but by asking questions, talking and smiling in a friendly manner can earn the respect of the most fearsome “wrong-un”. How you present yourself is key. Avoid threats and personalisation of the situation. Shaking hands can be a good as it acknowledges the situation passively even if you are outnumbered and is a passive assertive act. If you are threatened, “Now then, my friend, there is no need for that.” Or acknowledging verbally, “I am no threat to you” can de-escalate. The problem is, especially with men, is that this can be seen as a pride issue. It is not, it is a case of being smart. This does not mean that you should not ask people to leave, but shouting, “Get off my land” is likely to be less effective than a polite, “I would like you to leave.”

Talking is valuable as if you show an interest in their activity, who they are, where they are from you humanise yourself and make it a harder decision for you to be attacked. Your questions may be unwelcome, but if done in a good natured manner you can be surprised what you learn.

Body language is key and threat signals like raising of arms pointing and stabbing actions head thrust forward and open lipped teeth display and verbal onslaughts can be used against you, but if mirrored escalation will commence for the other person will be greater prepared to use violence than yourself. One of the most aggressive acts you can do in the current age is to film someone with your mobile phone. To take unwelcome pictures, especially at close quarters is unwise and will almost certainly invoke attack. It is also a fact that appearing timid or weak can also invite attack especially in a group environment – this is frequently seen in children with the bully playing to a crowd, but is also a survival behaviour seen in prisons.

It is not just body language but actions that can become aggressive such as taking chase in a vehicle (highly dangerous) or trapping people in your field or yard with your vehicles or equipment. A cornered rat will fly at its assailant with great ferocity.

You may experience incitement to react with abuse or threats. This is a deliberate ploy for the wrongdoer to put themselves “in the right” in their own mind. Firm and loud “no” and “stand back” whilst retreating facing the person is wise if possible to a distance or barrier of safety.

Assistance and observation – assistance is difficult in a rural environment. It is best achieved with a small network of neighbours looking out for each other. Reliance on mobile phones can be unwise. I do strongly recommend having two mobile phones on different networks. One on a smart phone and the other on a basic phone that tends to have both stronger signals and longer battery life. You should also prepare to enable assistance by making a note of “what three words” for every field entrance and yard that you use. If you phone police for assistance preferably do it hands free or out of sight and establish clearly whether they will be able to attend. Only state to people that police have been called and are coming if it is true. The reality is that in much of the countryside is that they can be seen a mile off! If you fear repercussions use phrases like, “one of my neighbours/ or a friend told me that the police are coming”. This depersonalises the threat. You see this with road rage, where as soon as a threat is personalised it escalates to violent behaviour.

Observation is your friend. A house surrounded by nosey neighbours is less likely to be burgled. Drug dealers do not like you chatting to them as it disrupts their trade. So too in the countryside, if you see somebody in your yard that should not be there calling out and waving to them, or making it clear that they are being observed can be enough to encourage them to move on. This can be true of some hare coursers and poachers and I have accompanied people on nature reserves doing just this to “nudge” people to move on elsewhere. However, observation should be done with care. Dashcams are cheap and can be really useful tools to observe and gather evidence without the aggression that a pointing a camera or mobile phone can invite.

CCTV is not the deterrent it used to be and at best tends to record crime as it is happening, can invite interest in a property or just in itself be the target of damage. CCTV is now best used covertly to gather evidence unless it is highly protected or even armoured from damage and interference. I read recently that a house with a video door bell is three times more likely to attract crime!

Being watched is also a safety factor, for if you and your neighbours watch each other, even at a distance it enables aid to be obtained in the event of any escalation.

Finally I will briefly address the elephant in the room – violence and assault. I am a firm believer that violence is like an unleashed dog that once you let it go it can be hard to get back under control. I also state that what I write is a view and should not be taken as legal advice. The law on self defence is largely reliant upon case law and common law rights. As such you can use reasonable force to defend yourself taking into account your circumstances. You can strike first and you can use force to defend another person.

However, there are some significant issues to consider. Do you wish to defend your actions in a court of law? Do you wish to defend your actions to yourself if you kill or maim? Also, to truly negate a threat to yourself you have to use sufficient force to prevent them being able to strike back. This is both extreme and real and cannot be rehearsed by most regular people. The reality is that in the use of violence the cards are usually stacked against you.

It was the day after completing the draft of this post that I encountered an incident of a person being attacked in an attempted robbery. They used, in my opinion, reasonable force, but caused considerable hurt to one of their assailants. With due consideration they thought it best not to report the incident to the police for fear of accusation of assault. Thus we see the paradox of using violence.

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