R v Lee (Bruce)

JurisdictionEngland & Wales
Judgment Date09 December 1983
Judgment citation (vLex)[1983] EWCA Crim J1209-1
Docket NumberNo. 3132/R/82
CourtCourt of Appeal (Criminal Division)
Date09 December 1983
Bruce George Peter Lee

[1983] EWCA Crim J1209-1


Lord Justice Ackner

Mr. Justice Glidewell


Mr. Justice Leggatt

No. 3132/R/82



Royal Courts of Justice

MR. H. OGNALL, Q.C. and MR. P. HEPPEL appeared on behalf of the Applicant.

MR. G. COLES, Q.C. and MR. D. WAGSTAFF appeared on behalf of the Crown.


(As approved by the Judge)


On the night of 3rd/4th December 1979, 12 Selby Street, an end terraced house in the Boulevard area of Hull, was set on fire. Mrs Hastie had gone to bed that evening at about 11.00 p.m. and was woken soon after midnight by this fire. From the landing she saw that her front door was just a mass of blaze with fire shooting up the stairs. The heat was unbearable. She roused her children. Mrs Hastie was pushed out of a front bedroom by her son Charles, aged 15 years. The rest of her family were brought out by the fire brigade. Charles, Paul aged 12 years, and Peter aged 10 years, died later of their burns.


It has never been open to doubt that this was a case of arson. The fire had been deliberately started, using paraffin as an accelerant. That paraffin had been poured through the letterbox and then ignited. Accordingly, a murder inquiry began. The first line of inquiry related to a Rover car and was based on an anonymous telephone call by a man called Roger Singleton. Another line of inquiry concerned a suggestion that the wrong house was fired in revenge for a double-cross in a drugs deal. These two lines of inquiry, to which we will refer later, proved fruitless. Detective Superintendent Sagar then considered whether the motive for the arson might have some homosexual connection. Lee and other suspected homosexuals were interviewed, but only Lee admitted homosexuality with Charles Hastie. On 18th May 1980, a statement was taken from Lee and, although so much else in these applications has been the subject matter of challenge, no suggestion has ever been made that this statement was other than a voluntary statement properly obtained and contained the truth. In that statement Lee explained how he came to meet Mr. Hastie. He gave details of their homosexual practices and how Hastie would, from time to time, ask for money following their sexual activities.


On 6th June 1980 Lee was arrested. Later that evening he was interviewed by Detective Superintendent Sagar who made a contemporaneous note of his questions and Lee's answers. During that interview Lee admitted that Charles Hastie had been demanding money from him for taking part in their homosexual activities, that this made him angry and that he had therefore set fire to the house. He gave a detailed account of how he poured paraffin through the letterbox and caused the fire. At the conclusion of this lengthy interview he agreed to provide a statement in writing. This he dictated to Detective Superintendent Sagar, signing the caption at the commencement of the statement that he wanted someone to write down what he said, confirming that he had been duly cautioned, signing each page of that lengthy statement, and not only signing the statement at its conclusion, but in his own writing, confirming that he had read the statement, that he had been told that he could correct, alter or add anything and that the statement was true and made of his own free will.


On the next day Detective Superintendent Sagar told Lee that he believed he should have legal advice. Lee eventually selected a solicitor and, it being a weekend, the solicitor's clerk was contacted. Lee then arranged to show, and showed, the police where he had burned the plastic container which had contained paraffin and also where he had stood under the flyover that night. Later, on 7th June, he saw a representative of the firm of solicitors who were to act for him both up to his trial and for some little time thereafter. In the presence of the solicitor's representative Lee identified the nature of the two litre soft drink plastic container which he had used to pour paraffin through the letterbox of 12 Selby Street. Two days later, on 9th June, there was a further interview at the conclusion of which he agreed to make a further statement regarding the purchase of the paraffin which he had used. A statement was duly taken down in writing and signed and he confirmed this in like manner to his first statement.


A little over two weeks later, on 22nd June, after Detective Superintendent Sagar had made enquiries into another fire, namely that at 407 Troutbeck House, which occurred on 22nd June 1979, there was a further interview with Lee. Lee, in the course of that interview, admitted that he had set light to those premises and, at the conclusion of that interview, agreed to make a written statement. In the course of that statement he admitted guilt for other fires and further admissions were made and written statements obtained in subsequent interviews.


In due course 11 indictments were served on Lee, all of which, except the fire relating to Troutbeck House, contained not only counts of arson, but counts of murder. Those indictments, except for Selby Street, were numbered in chronological order of the fires.


On 20th January 1981 at the Leeds Crown Court, before Tudor Evans J., Lee pleaded guilty to the 11 indictments as follows:

Indictment No. 810041
Count 1 Arson, 12 Selby Street, 4th December 1979.
Count 2 Manslaughter of Charles Hastie by reason of diminished responsibility.
Count 3 Manslaughter of Paul Hastie by reason of diminished responsibility.
Count 4 Manslaughter of Peter Hastie by reason of diminished responsibility.
Indictment No. 810042
Count 2 Arson, 70 Askew Avenue, 23rd June 1973.
Count 3 Manslaughter of Richard Ellerington by reason of diminished responsibility.
Indictment No. 810043
Count 2 Arson, 33 Glasgow Street, 12th October 1973.
Count 3 Manslaughter of Arthur Smythe by reason of diminished responsibility.
Indictment No. 810044
Count 2 Arson, clothing of David Brewer, 19th October 1973.
Count 3 Manslaughter of David Brewer by reason of diminished responsibility.
Indictment No. 810045
Count 2 Arson, 7 Minnies Terrace, 23rd December 1974.
Count 3 Manslaughter of Elizabeth Rokahr by reason of diminished responsibility.
Indictment No. 810046
Count 2 Arson, 9 Gorthorpe, 3rd June 1974.
Count 3 Manslaughter of Andrew Edwards by reason of diminished responsibility.
Indictment No. 810047
Count 2 Arson, 43 West Dock Avenue, 2nd January 1977.
Count 3 Manslaughter of Katrina Thacker by reason of diminished responsibility.
Indictment No. 810048
Count 2 Arson, Wensley Lodge, 5th January 1977.
Counts 3 to 13 Manslaughter of 11 named men by reason of diminished responsibility.
Indictment No. 810049
Count 2 Arson, 4 Belgrave Terrace, 27th April 1977.
Count 3 Manslaughter of Deborah Gold by reason of diminished responsibility.
Count 4 Manslaughter of Mark Jordon by reason of diminished responsibility.
Indictment No. 810050
Count 2 Arson, 2 Brentwood Villas, 6th January 1978.
Counts 3 to 6 Manslaughter of Mrs Christine Dickson and her three sons by reason of diminished responsibility.
Indictment No. 810051
Arson, 407 Troutbeck House, 23rd June 1979.

These pleas were accpeted and Lee was ordered to be detained without limit of time at Park Lane Hospital, under section 60 and section 65 of the Mental Health Act 1959.


Despite the extensive confessions made by Lee it was not anticipated that he would plead guilty. Indeed, in the papers sent to us by the DPP and of course provided to Lee's legal advisers, is an account by Detective Superintendent Sagar of a conversation between him and Lee when Lee said in terms, on 12th November 1980, in Leeds Prison: "…..I'm going to plead not guilty see 'cause I understand there's a chance if I deny it and act a bit daft I might get into a mental home, that'll be better than a stinking prison, and anyway I might get away with it all. Mr. Pearce" – and that is the solicitor's clerk – "told me there'd be no proof if I hadn't fucking told you so. I'm going to deny it all….. Anyway, I'm not going to go into the fucking witness box so it's up to Eric" – that is Mr. Pearce – "to get me off with the barristers."


The case was therefore listed for a hearing of a pre-trial review on 19th January 1981. However, Lee instructed his counsel, Mr. Harry Ognall Q.C. and Mr. Heppel, both of whom have appeared before us on these applications, that he wished to plead guilty. At the request of Mr. Ognall the judge saw counsel in his chambers and we have, at the instance of Lee's advisers, been provided with the benefit of a transcript of what took place. Mr. Ognall informed the judge that his then current instructions caused him anxiety and disquiet. He said it was difficult to get instructions from Lee who had shifted his ground as to his guilt, the present change being about the fourth change of his instructions. Mr. Ognall pointed out that one of the factors causing anxiety was the conclusion of a public inquiry of the cause of one fire, the Wensley Lodge fire in 1977, when 11 elderly men met their deaths, as accidental.


The following exchange took place: "(Mr. Justice Tudor Evans): I suppose if I were of the view that on some of the counts the pleas are not very clearly answered I ought to say a plea of not guilty is to be entered. (Mr. Ognall Q.C.): That would be our submission. (Mr. Justice Tudor Evans): The difficulty will arise - if, for example, he pleads to a, b and c - as to whether I should say there is a plea of not guilty to them all." Mr. Ognall did not suggest that course. He said: "I am...

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