Crime CLXXXIV-Criminal Damage XXIV

In R v Gemmell and Richards (2003) – two boys aged 11 and 12 respectively, went camping without their parents’ permission. They found themselves behind a Co-op shop and discovered bundles of newspaper stacked up nearby. They opened the newspapers to read and later lit up some of the newspaper. They then threw some of the lit paper under a large plastic wheelie-bin and left the yard without putting out the fire. The wheelie-bin caught fire and spread to another bin, a shop and adjoining buildings causing damages worth £1 million.

The defendants were charged with arson as per s 1 (1) and 1 (3) of the Criminal Damage Act 1971. The defendants were convicted, and the Court of Appeal upheld the conviction because it felt that it was bound by the decision in Caldwell. The defendants appealed.

The House of Lords quashed the appellants’ convictions – “Can a defendant properly be convicted under section 1 of the Criminal Damage Act 1971 on the basis that he was reckless as to whether property was destroyed or damaged when he gave no thought to the risk but, by reason of his age and/or personal characteristics the risk would not have been obvious to him, even if he had thought about it?”.

“A person acts recklessly within the meaning of section 1 of the Criminal Damage Act 1971 with respect to –

(i) a circumstance when he is aware of a risk that it exists or will exist;

(ii) a result when he is aware of a risk that it will occur; and it is, in the circumstances known to him, unreasonable to take the risk.” – Lord Bingham.

Copyright © 2018 by Dyarne Ward

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