Director of Public Prosecutions for Northern Ireland v Maxwell [1978] 3 All ER 1140

Aiding and abetting; intent to cause explosion; whether in possession of a bomb


The defendant was a member of the UVF, an organisation carrying out attacks on Roman Catholics by the use firearms and bombs. This case concerns an attack in an inn where the defendant, a local, was asked to lead a group of men who placed a bomb in the inn. The bomb was placed but the owner’s son found it in time, removed it and the bomb eventually detonated outside the inn. The defendant was convicted of unlawfully and maliciously doing an act with intent to cause an explosion likely to endanger life under s.3(a) of the Explosive Substances Act 1883 and possession of a bomb under s.3(b). He appealed.


The defendant argued that he was wrongly convicted as he had not known beforehand that the inn would be bombed. The Court of Appeal for Northern Ireland, which originally also rejected his appeal, accepted that there was a point of law of general importance involved. The question was that if the crime committed by the principal and assisted by the defendant was among the number of offences, one of which the defendant knew the principal would likely commit, was the mens rea to be proved against an accomplice thereby proved again the defendant here.


The Court held that it was not necessary for the defendant to have knowledge of the actual offence committed as he already aided and abetted the commission of the offence. Instead, it was enough if the aider knew what the type of offence could be committed or the essential matters constituting the offence. As a member of the UVF, the defendant knew that by leading them, he helped the group of bomb-placers to carry out some kind of attack. He also must have known that the weapon with which an attack was to be carried out was in the car he led. He thus knew the essential matters constituting the offence and was thus rightly convicted.