R v Bowen (Cecil) [1996] 4 All ER 837

Criminal law – Duress – Mental capacity


Bowen had obtained a number of electrical goods, over a series of visits to the value of £20,000. He had done so by applying for a number of ‘instant credit’ deals and paying a portion of the deposit but not completing the payment for any of the goods concerned. He was arrested as he attempted to buy a video recorder using the same process. When questioned, he made clear that he had sold the goods and stopped paying the finance company to which he owed. He mentioned that he did not know that his actions constituted a criminal offence. He was subsequently charged with deceptively obtaining services. When Bowen gave evidence, he claimed that he had acted under duress. He said that two men had threatened him that he and his family would be petrol bombed if he did not obtain the goods and told that if he went to the police, his family would be attacked.  Bowen was convicted and appealed the decision.


A specialist was called during the initial trial who gave evidence that Bowen had the reading age of a child, IQ of 68 and that he was a vulnerable individual. The issue, in this case, was whether the judge had misdirected the jury by not stating that Bowen’s vulnerability was to be taken into account when considering the defence of duress. The jury was only told to give regard to Bowen’s age and gender.


Bowen’s appeal against conviction was dismissed. An accused’s gender, age and possibility of physical disability are relevant in weighing reasonable behaviour. However, low intelligence was not. On this basis, the direction given to the jury was considered appropriate.