R v Shivpuri [1986] 2 All ER 334

Whether a person can be convicted for attempting an impossible crime - Importation of prohibited drugs


Pyare Shivpuri (S) was persuaded to act as a drugs courier. S collected a suitcase which contained several packages of white powder which he admitted in police interview that he believed to be either heroin or cannabis but was in fact legal snuff. S was charged with attempting to be knowingly concerned in dealing with and harbouring the controlled drug of heroin, under the Criminal Attempts Act 1981 section 1(1) (1981 Act) and the Customs and Excise Management Act 1979 section 170(1)(b) (1979 Act), despite the fact that the white powder was not in fact drugs. S was convicted and appealed.


S claimed that he could not be found guilty in law of an impossible offence, because the substance was not a drug.


For section 170(1) of the 1979 Act to apply, it is immaterial that S did not know the exact nature of the substance in his possession, but nevertheless believed he was dealing with controlled drugs the importation of which was prohibited. The statutory offence of attempt under Section 1 of the 1981 Act requires (1) an act which was more than merely preparatory to the commission of an offence and (2) the accused intended to commit an offence. It is no defence that on the true facts it would have been impossible to commit the actual offence, which overruled the notion of ‘objective innocence’ in Anderton v Ryan [1985] A.C. 560. The Court of Appeal and House of Lords dismissed the appeal and upheld the conviction.