R v Valderamma-Vega [1985] Crim LR 220

Criminal law – Defence - Duress – Threat of injury


Valderamma-Vega was a retired police officer who arrived at Gatwick Airport from Colombia when he was stopped by customs officers. They searched his suitcase and found almost two kilograms of cocaine hidden in a concealed compartment in his luggage. He was interviewed at length and provided two defences. The first was that he did not know that he had cocaine in the suitcase. Rather contradictorily, his second defence was that he bought the cocaine in under duress. Specifically, the basis of the duress was that he alleged that he had received calls threatening his and his family’s lives from a Mafia-type organisation. He argued that he was also under severe financial pressure and had been threatened by the disclosure of his homosexuality.


As a matter of law, duress can be used a defence when an individual acts as the result of the threats of death or serious injury to himself, or his family and such a circumstance is treated as a single type of threat. It was important in this case to decide whether or not the jury could consider the wider threats such as the disclosure of Valderamma-Vega’s sexuality or the financial burdens that he was under and the reward on offer for successfully delivering the cocaine.


The appeal against conviction was dismissed. It was held by the court that the jury was permitted to consider the cumulative threats in this case. However, if threats of death or serious injury were not part of this, other such reasons could not be employed as a sufficient defence.