R v Caldwell – Arson Case – Free Case Law Database

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R v Caldwell [1981] 1 All ER 961

HOUSE OF LORDS 

LORD WILBERFORCE, LORD DIPLOCK, LORD EDMUND-DAVIES, LORD KEITH OF KINKEL

AND LORD ROSKILL 10, 11 DECEMBER 1980, 19 MARCH 1981

The respondent had done some work for the owner of a hotel as the

result of which he had a quarrel with the owner, got drunk and set fire

to the hotel in revenge.

The fire was discovered and put out before any

serious damage was caused and none of the ten guests in the hotel at the

time was injured. The respondent was indicted on two counts of arson

under s 1(1) and (2)a of the Criminal Damage Act 1971.

At his trial he pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of intentionally or

recklessly destroying or damaging the property of another, contrary to s

1(1), but pleaded not guilty to the more serious charge under s 1(2) of

damaging property with intent to endanger life or being reckless whether

life would be endangered.

He claimed that he was so drunk at the time

that the thought that he might be endangering the lives of the people in

the hotel had never crossed his mind. The trial judge directed the jury

that drunkenness was not a defence to a charge under s 1(2) and he was

convicted.

On appeal, the Court of Appeal allowed the appeal on the

ground that the mental element of intention or recklessness in regard to

endangering life referred to in s 1(2)(b) was a matter of

specific intent going beyond the actus reus and therefore had to be

established as a separate ingredient of the offence, and drunkenness

could accordingly be a good defence.

The Crown appealed to the House of

Lords. 

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