A bullet is posted through another person's letterbox - what offence is committed?

15 April 2020

Not reviewed after the date of publication

Question:

An incident has occurred in which a suspect has posted a bullet through a letterbox with the victim's name written on it. What offence has been committed in these circumstances?

Answer: 

We have given consideration to the following offences that we believe may be applicable, depending on the full facts and circumstances of the case, but ultimately what offence has been committed will be a matter for the court to decide.

Threats to kill

Section 16 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861 provides for the offence of threats to kill and states:

'16 A person who without lawful excuse makes to another a threat, intending that that other would fear it would be carried out, to kill that other or a third person shall be guilty of an offence.'

The threat can take any form and so this offence can be committed by the use of either words or actions but the intent element must be proven – intending that the other person would fear the threat would be carried out to kill that person or a third person.

It is our opinion that posting a bullet to a person with their name on it could amount to a threat to kill but it would be for the jury to decide what is reasonable and what amounts to a threat.

Where it is doubtful whether the threat carried the necessary intent, a charge under section 4 Public Order Act 1986 may be appropriate (see below).

Threatening behaviour

Section 4 of the Public Order Act 1986 creates the offence of causing fear or provocation of violence, often known as 'threatening behaviour' and provides:

'4(1) A person is guilty of an offence if he -

(a) uses towards another person threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour, or

(b) distributes or displays to another person any writing, sign or other visible representation which is threatening, abusive or insulting,

with intent to cause that person to believe that immediate unlawful violence will be used against him or another by any person, or to provoke the immediate use of unlawful violence by that person or another, or whereby that person is likely to believe that such violence will be used or it is likely that such violence will be provoked.

4(2) An offence under this section may be committed in a public or a private place, except that no offence is committed where the words or behaviour are used, or the writing, sign or other visible representation is distributed or displayed, by a person inside a dwelling and the other person is also inside that or another dwelling.'

We believe that this offence may be made out when one person has posted a named bullet to another but again the necessary intent element will need to be proven.

Communications Offence

Section 1 of the Malicious Communications Act 1988 creates offences in relation to the sending of indecent, offensive or threatening letters, electronic communications or articles with intent to cause the recipient distress or anxiety and provides:

'1(1) Any person who sends to another person –

(a) a letter, electronic communication or article of any description which conveys -

(i) a message which is indecent or grossly offensive;

(ii) a threat; or

(iii) information which is false and known or believed to be false by the sender; or

(b) any article or electronic communication which is, in whole or in part, of an indecent or grossly offensive nature,

is guilty of an offence if his purpose, or one of his purposes, in sending it is that it should, so far as falling within paragraph (a) or (b) above, cause distress or anxiety to the recipient or to any other person to whom he intends that it or its contents or nature should be communicated.'

It is our opinion that this offence may be made out in the circumstances described. One person has sent to another an article (bullet) which conveys a threat (the name is written on the bullet).

Harassment

If there is a history between the parties it may be relevant to consider the offence of harassment.

Sections 1 and 2 of the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 provide for the prohibition of harassment and state:

'1(1) A person must not pursue a course of conduct -

(a) which amounts to harassment of another, and
(b) which he knows or ought to know amounts to harassment of the other.'

'2(1) A person who pursues a course of conduct in breach of section 1(1) or (1A) is guilty of an offence.'

Whether this offence is made out would depend on the whole facts / circumstances of the case because a course of conduct must be identified. A course of conduct requires a continuing saga of problems on a minimum of two occasions. It is sufficient that the whole course of conduct causes distress / alarm / torment, since there are occasions where a victim may not be alarmed etc. on each and every occasion. However, two isolated incidents do not constitute a course of conduct and the further the incidents are apart, the less likely they will be looked upon as a course of conduct.

We would advise that contact with the CPS is made at the earliest opportunity in order to discuss potential charges.

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