Tory leader William Hague was surrounded by more press advisers than police officers.

Hardly surprising for a man who just wanted to say in Oxfordshire what he'd been claiming all day in other parts of the country that crime would be tackled harder by the Conservatives.

Last week, the Oxford Mail highlighted the life sentence of former Oxfordshire schoolboy Tony Martin for killing a burglar, serial rapist Graham Rankine released from jail to attack again in Oxford and David Blagdon who has served 22 years for setting fire to church curtains.

Mr Hague said people had been "shaken by the justice system" because of cases such as those highlighted by the Oxford Mail. He said: "Those who live law-abiding lives and do their best for themselves and their families and stick to the rules are often penalised while others who dodge the rules get away with it.

"We would have honesty in sentencing and that means criminals would serve the sentence that has been handed down to them in the court. That would also mean an end to automatic early release from jail. The criminal justice system needs toughening up and we would introduce longer jail sentences to people who sell drugs to children, for example."

Mr Hague said his call for an overhaul of the laws on self-defence were not a knee-jerk reaction to the Martin case and he denied trying to score political points. He also refused to back Shadow Home Secretary Ann Widdecombe, who said it was unacceptable for people to face prosecution for "hitting a burglar over the head".

He said: "We want to change the balance of the law between the householder and the burglar with the presumption that the state should be on the side of people who try to protect their lives and property."

Later it emerged that Mr Hague had voted against a change in the law which could have allowed the Norfolk farmer to walk free. In 1991, as a new MP, he voted against an amendment to the Criminal Justice Bill which would have abolished the mandatory life sentence for murder.

Mr Hague was visiting Banbury today.

**Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy was due in Oxford today to speak to local election candidates.