Osman v Ferguson – 1993

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Osman v Ferguson [1993] 4 All ER 344;

[1992] EWCA Civ 8;

NEGLIGENCE, DUTY OF CARE, NEGLIGENCE IN POLICE INVESTIGATION, PERSONS TO WHOM DUTY IS OWED, LIABILITY TO PERSONS

INJURED AS A RESULT OF CRIME

Facts

P, a school teacher, formed an unhealthy attachment to a 15-year-old male pupil. P repeatedly harassed the pupil. In May 1987, P changed his surname to that of the boy and threw a brick to the pupil’s home window, smeared dog excrement on the front door and slashed the tyres of the car belonging to the boy’s father. The police were made aware of these incidents. Subsequently, P was dismissed from the school. P warned the police that the dismissal was affecting him and he was likely to do something criminally insane. In December 1987, P rammed a vehicle in which the boy was the passenger. The police laid an information against P but it was not served. In March 1988, P followed the pupil and his family to their flat. He shot and severely injured the boy and killed his father. The boy and his mother brought an action against the police alleging negligence on grounds of failure to apprehend, interview the teacher, search his home or charge him with serious offence despite being aware of his activity. The Queen’s Bench ruled in favour of the plaintiffs. The defendant appealed to the Court of Appeal.

Issue

(1) Has the failure of the police to apprehend the criminal in the present case created an exceptional added risk, different from the general risk from criminal activity to the public at large?

(2) If so, are the police liable to individuals for a failure to apprehend a criminal when this was possible?

Held

The appeal was allowed.

(1) Following Hill v Chief Constable of West Yorkshire [1988] 2 WLR 1049, the plaintiffs and the boy’s father were exposed to a risk over and above that of the public. Therefore, there was a case that there was a close degree of proximity amounting to a special relationship between the police officers and the plaintiffs.

(2) The existence of a general duty of the police to suppress crime does not carry with it liability to individuals for injuries caused to them by criminals whom the police had failed to apprehend where this was possible as it would be against public policy such a liability, it would not promote higher standards of care and divert police resources from investigation and suppression of crime.

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