ANY hope the present Labour administration had of justifying its oft-repeated but tarnished pledge to be tough on crime has been scuppered by Home Office lawyers.

In a story which beggars belief, they are trying to persuade the judiciary to review laws giving burglars and other criminals the right to sue in cases where they have been injured committing an offence.

Their crusade stems from the case of Norfolk farmer Tony Martin, who shot two burglars, killing one, teenager Fred Barras, and wounding another, Brendan Fearon, at his remote farmhouse in 1999.

Home Office lawyers opposed Mr Martin's bid for parole on the grounds that, once free, he represented a threat to burglars or other intruders. They didn't add that perhaps he should be more tolerant, welcoming them with cucumber sandwiches, scones and cups of tea before inviting them to help themselves to his property. However, the theme still bordered on the preposterous.

In America, where ownership of firearms and the right to use them in defence of one's property and person is considered legal, Mr Martin would have been cleared of any criminal act.

He had been the victim of burglary or attempted burglary on a regular basis and was virtually a prisoner in his own home. His use of a shotgun, while wholly unlawful, was prompted by what he considered justifiable force against intruders determined to rob, possibly harm him.

Whether he meant to kill or maim is a matter of whom you believe. Mr Martin, who has become something of a cause celebre for the Get Tough On Criminals lobby, said he meant only to frighten the burglars.

He certainly did that. However, firing a shotgun in the general direction of someone can have but one result. In the case of Fred Barras, it was terminal.

Tony Martin could not have foreseen the rumpus his offence, sentence and appeal would create. But I have absolutely no doubt that Tony Blair and David Blunkett must be wishing he would disappear from the public's consciousness or, better still, from the face of the earth.

Using his case as an argument that the law must defend burglars from people whose property they invade, as the Home Office lawyers are doing, is potentially far more damaging to Mr Blair than the Iraqi conflict.

The fall of Saddam Hussein's regime is now being seen as a Blair success, if we overlook the deaths and suffering of innocent civilians, the non-discovery of weapons of mass destruction and the fact that Saddam and other leading players in the Pack of Cards nonsense are still missing.

But this "compensation for burglars injured in the furtherance of crime" could be the nuclear warhead Mr Blair didn't find in Iraq.

Taking their legal argument to its logical (?) conclusion, should women have regular health checks to make sure they can't be sued by rapists affected by a sexually-transmitted disease? Or that young children shouldn't be allowed to carry sweets in case they are sued for tempting paedophiles.

Yes, it's getting that daft.