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R v Carey & Ors [2006] EWCA Crim 17 Court of Appeal

Aimee Wellock, aged 15, and three friends went out for an early evening walk. They came across the three appellants who had been drinking. The appellants started making fun of Aimee and her friends and then became physically violent. Aimee had her head pulled back and was punched in the face. Two passing motorcyclists stopped and shouted at the appellants and they ran off. Aimee then ran off. She ran just over 100 metres but then unfortunately she collapsed and died. It transpired that she had a severely diseased heart and the run had induced a ventricular fibrillation which resulted in her death. The three appellants were convicted of affray and constructive manslaughter. They appealed against the manslaughter conviction.

Held:

The manslaughter convictions were quashed. The physical assault on Aimee was not the cause of death. The cause of death was Aimee running away in fear, however, this was not act which the hypothetical sober and reasonable person would regard as subjecting Aimee to some physical harm.

Dyson LJ:

"This is a most tragic case. Aimee and her friends were the subject of an entirely unprovoked attack whilst they were taking a walk on a pleasant summer evening at a local beauty spot. It was a thoroughly unpleasant attack accompanied by menace and bullying. But the injuries caused to the three girls which we have described were slight. None of the appellants intended to cause really serious harm to any of the victims, still less did they intend that Aimee should die. No doubt, but for the affray Aimee would not have died when she did. It is understandable that Aimee's family in particular, but no doubt others too, should think that the appellants are responsible for Aimee's death. In a sense they are. As we have said, but for the affray, Aimee would not have died when she did. But that is not sufficient to make them guilty of manslaughter. There are those who believe that the definition of unlawful act manslaughter is too wide and catches within its net persons who should not be held criminally liable for another's death. The principle enunciated in Church is, however, clear and now well established as part of our law. It means that a person who inflicts quite slight injury which unforeseeably leads to the death of the victim is guilty of the serious offence of manslaughter: in law, he is criminally liable for the death. This principle must, of course, be loyally applied and without reservation.

For the reasons that we have given, to hold these appellants liable for the death of Aimee in circumstances such as occurred in this case would involve an unwarranted extension of the law. In our view, such an extension would come close to saying that if X commits an unlawful act but for which Y would not have died, X is criminally liable for the death of Y. That is not our law. Our law requires that X commits an unlawful act which is dangerous in the sense that it is recognised by sober and reasonable persons as subjecting Y to the risk of some physical harm which in turn causes the death. The only act committed against Aimee which was dangerous in that sense was C's assault on her, but physical harm resulting from the assault itself did not cause Aimee's death. It must follow that none of the appellants was guilty of manslaughter."
 
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