Murray v Ministry of Defence [1988] 1 WLR 692

Tort; false imprisonment; detention of suspect; arrest


Margaret Murray, M, was a suspect of aiding IRA, a prohibited organisation in Northern Ireland. D and five soldiers arrived at M’s house to arrest M at 7a. D ascertained M’s identity, assembled all the occupants of the house in one room, and searched the house. D formally arrested the plaintiff at 7.30 am under section 14 of the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act 1978 (the 1978 Act) which allows members of the armed forces to arrest without a warrant and detain for up to four hours a person suspected of committing an offence. M was taken to an army screening centre where she was pat-searched, interviewed, and released at 9.35 am. M claimed damages against the Ministry of Defence for false imprisonment and trespass. The judge dismissed her action. M appealed to the Court of Appeal and then to the House of Lords.


M claimed that she had been wrongfully arrested, as she was given no proper reason for her detention by the arresting officer.


It is not an essential element of the tort of false imprisonment that the victim should be aware of the fact of denial of liberty. Where a person is detained by a police officer and knew that they were being detained, that amounted to an arrest even though no formal words of arrest were spoken by the officer. The failure to make the formal arrest until half an hour after entering the house did not render M’s detention from 7am unlawful and under the circumstances of the case it was reasonable for D to delay formally arresting M until D had taken the precautions to assemble all the members in the house in one room and to search the house. The appeal was dismissed.