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R v Wenton (Luke) [2010] EWCA Crim 2361

Criminal damage – causation – mens rea

Facts

A window was smashed by a brick at a property which was occupied by a family with three children. Shortly afterwards, a canister filled with petrol was thrown through the broken window along with paper that had already been lit. The petrol spilled out of the canister but the paper had extinguished before it caught light and there was no fire. Wenton’s finger prints were found on both the canister and the paper and he was subsequently charged under the Criminal Damage Act 1971 section 1.

Issue

The Crown submitted that Wenton smashed the window in order to throw the canister with the lit paper in order to endanger life.  As a defence, Wenton submitted that there were two separate acts that had taken place. The first was breaking the window with the brick, which carried no threat to life and then he threw the canister filled with petrol into the house. The Crown argued that the two cases were intertwined as part of Wenton’s ongoing and continued conduct of getting the petrol canister into the victim’s premises.

Held

Appeal allowed. The actus reus of the charge was the breaking of the window. Following R v Steer [1988], the threat to life had to result from the damage to the property and not the act of the defendant. Also, previous authority had also focussed on the consequence of the damage caused, which in this cases was minimal. Therefore, it was seen that the incident that gave rise to risk of life, was separate from the act that caused the damage.


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