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   Case summaries      Swinney v Chief Constable of Northumbria

Swinney v Chief Constable of Northumbria Police Force [1997] QB 464  Court of Appeal

Mr & Mrs Swinney were managers of a pub. They came across information relating to the identity of a person responsible for the unlawful killing of a police officer. They passed this information on to DC Dew who recorded the information. The document containing this information was later stolen from an unattended police car. Subsequently, Mr & Mrs Swinney received violent threats and suffered psychiatric injury as a consequence. They brought a negligence claim against the police for the psychiatric injury suffered. The claim was struck out by the district judge. The Swinneys’ appeal was allowed by Laws J. The police appealed to the Court of Appeal contending the facts did not give rise to a duty of care.


The appeal was dismissed the case should continue to trial. By accepting the information, knowing of its confidential and sensitive nature, the police had assumed a responsibility to deal with the information in an appropriate manner. There were no policy reasons for denying the existence of a duty of care. Policy factors dictate that a duty should be owed to preserve the springs of information, to protect informers, and to encourage them to come forward without an undue fear of the risk that their identity will subsequently become known to the suspect or to his associates

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