Thomas v National Union of Mineworkers [1986] Ch 20

Assault, capacity to carry out threats immediately, harassment

Facts

During a set of strikes organised by the National Union of Miners (NUM – the Defendant), the Claimant, who was a miner, wanted to continue working in the mines instead of going on strike. He, along with other miners who also wanted to continue working, had to be bussed to the mines so that they could get to work through the pickets. Every day this involved being driven through an aggressive crowd of striking miners (organised by the Defendant) who shouted threats towards the Claimant and others who were on the bus, in addition to making violent gestures in their direction. However, there was always police at the scene who stood between the pickets and the bus and in addition, the Claimant and the other miners were protected by the bus itself.

Issue

The issue in the case was whether it was necessary for the Defendant to be able to carry out his threats immediately for him to be guilty of an assault.

Held

The court held that the actions of the Defendant could not constitute an assault as the crowd lacked the capacity to immediately carry out its threats. Capability to put a threat imminently was a necessary aspect of the tort of assault. However, the actions of the Defendant were actionable under the tort of nuisance, since they interfered with the Claimant’s right to use the highway and to attend work without harassment.