Burglars must expect stiff punishment for violating homes, says Britain's top judge.

The Lord Chief Justice yesterday urged the courts to impose harsh sentences on thieves who target vulnerable victims, steal irreplaceable sentimental items or terrify residents.

Lord Judge said: 'There is a long-standing, almost intuitive belief that our homes should be our castles.

'Something precious is violated by burglary of a home, and those who perpetrate this crime should be sentenced and punished accordingly.'

His strongly-worded guidance marks a significantly tougher approach to burglary following years of mounting concern over 'softly-softly' punishments, and police forces treating the offence as a low priority.

Lord Judge, sitting with two other senior judges at the Appeal Court in London, made his call for a renewed focus on the often terrible impact on victims as he threw out attempts by six convicted burglars, including heroin addict Rebecca Saw, who terrorised a young family, to have their jail terms reduced.

He took the opportunity to issue formal guidance for all courts in England and Wales calling for a robust approach to domestic break-ins.