R v Sangha [1988] 2 All ER 385

Criminal Damage Act 1971 – Recklessness - Arson


A flat in which squatters occupied, had two armchairs and a mattress which Sangha set fire to whilst the flat was unoccupied. Sangha was tried for arson as he damaged the flat with the fire and was reckless to endangering life as listed by the Criminal Damage Act 1971 section 1. Sangha’s counsel argued that there was no case to answer as his client knew nobody was in the property at the time and therefore there was no danger to life. This was rejected, Sangha was convicted and subsequently appealed the decision.


It was important to understand the extent to which Sangha could be liable for his actions of setting fire to the furniture in the property. A key issue here was to understand to what standard his actions would be measured by the court and whether his knowledge of the flat being empty could provide him a defence. 


Appeal dismissed. It was held that in considering whether setting fire to something created a risk to life, the test to be applied was whether the innocent, prudent bystander would have perceived that life could be endangered. It was agreed that the innocent, prudent bystander would see such a danger when Sangha set fire to the armchair and mattress. On this basis, it was held that the trial judge was right in his instruction and the conviction for recklessly endangering life would be upheld. The fact that there were special circumstances proven which would have prevented the danger from arising was irrelevant.