R v Field 2021


From late 2012 and 2015 F pretended to be in a genuine caring relationship with the victim (P), who was aged 69. Instead, he was seeking to manipulate and exploit for his own gain. P was persuaded by F to change his will so F would receive a large inheritance. Once P had changed his will, F gave the impression he was caring for P who was suffering from a mystery illness. He suggested to others that P was drinking too much and had developed suicidal thoughts. In fact, F had been covertly drugging PF and supplying him with alcohol which was part of his plan to kill him and to make P’s death appear to have been suicide. P was found dead in his home which was caused by acute alcohol toxicity and drug use (a drug prescribed for insomnia) and F inherited substantially from the estate. 

P had been prescribed the drug - Dalmane - for insomnia for which he took it intermittently. Only a small amount of the drug consistent with therapeutic use was found in P’s body. F accepted that leaving a bottle of whisky to tempt P (who had given up drinking for medical reasons) ultimately played a part in the fatality but that he had not intended to kill P. F maintained that he did not know P had taken any drugs and he was not present when he died.
 
The issue left for the jury by the judge was whether F’s actions were more than minimal in the cause of death. The jury rejected F’s account and concluded that F was present and had provided P with alcohol. F was convicted of murder. 
 
P appealed against his conviction on the basis that the judge's directions to the jury were legally incorrect. F submitted that the judge had erred in directing the jury regarding causation in that he mixed the concept of “more than minimal cause” with “deceit”, misleading the jury. F further submitted that the judge failed to explain the critical importance of the voluntary decision by P to consume the alcohol and/or drugs. 

Held


Appeal dismissed. Conviction upheld.
 
The Court of Appeal held that the undisclosed murderous intentions of F, substantively changed the nature of the undertaking. P believed that he was drinking strong whisky in the company of someone who loved and cared for him, not someone who wished for his death. P was encouraged by F to consume significant quantities which would impair his judgment. Therefore engaging in this activity was not a free, voluntary informed decision by P. He was being deliberately led into a dangerous situation, by someone who pretended to be concerned for his safety, whereas in reality, they wished for his demise.  

For those reasons, the court considered the judge’s approach was correct and the directions given were clear and succinct. The judge left the jury to determine whether F’s actions were a more than minimal cause of P’s death. It was open to the jury to conclude whether the giving of the drink was the cause of death and the conclusion would not be open had P known the drink was intended to cause his death. The jury, therefore, had to be sure that the drink was given to P with intent to kill, that the drink was more than minimal cause of death and P’s act of drinking was not a free, voluntary informed decision such as to break the chain of causation. 

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