R v Mansfield

JurisdictionEngland & Wales
Judgment Date18 March 1977
Judgment citation (vLex)[1977] EWCA Crim J0318-2
Docket NumberNo. 5881/C/75
CourtCourt of Appeal (Criminal Division)
Date18 March 1977
Edward Reginald Mansfield

[1977] EWCA Crim J0318-2


Lord Justice Lawton

Mr. Justice Cusack


Mr. Justice Jupp

No. 5881/C/75



Royal Courts of Justice

MR. N. COCKBURN appeared for the Appellant.

MR. J. MATHEW and MR. C. NICHOLLS appeared for the Crown.


On the 11th November, 1975, at the Central Criminal Court, the Appellant was arraigned before Mr. Justice Cobb on an indictment containing ten counts, three of which charged him with arson, counts 1, 9 and 10, and seven with murder, counts 2 - 8 inclusive. On the 1st December, 1975, he was convicted of arson on counts 1, 9 and 10 and on counts 2 - 8 he was convicted of manslaughter. He was sentenced to concurrent terms of life imprisonment on all ten counts. He has now appealed against his conviction by leave of this Court. There had been a previous trial, at the conclusion of which the jury were unable to agree.


On the night of the 12th December, 1974, the Appellant, who was a foreman-kitchen porter employed at the Piccadilly Hotel in the West End of London, was occupying a room numbered 106 at the Worsley Hotel in the Bayswater area. That hotel was used by the Grand Metropolitan Hotel Group of Companies as a hostel for employees of its various hotels in the Central London area. On the night of the 12th December, 1974, about 180 employees of the Grand Metropolitan Hotel Group were sleeping in the Worsley Hotel. Of those 180 employees 9 were people who worked at the Piccadilly Hotel. In the early hours of the morning a disastrous fire broke out in the Worsley Hotel. As a result of that fire seven persons met their death. In counts 2 - 8 the Appellant was accused of the murder of those seven persons.


There were two seats of fire in the Worsley Hotel: one on the ground floor level and one on the second floor level. When the alarm was given valiant efforts were made by the man who managed the Worsley Hotel to arouse those who were sleeping there. When the fire appliances arrived further efforts were made by the fireman to get as many people as possible out of the hotel. They succeeded in getting out a large number of people but of course not all. Very soon after the alarm had been sounded the Appellant was seen in the street outside the hotel wearing trousers, a singlet and a three-quarter length coat. He was one of very few of the occupants of the Worsley Hotel who had managed to get out wearing clothes other than night attire.


When enquiries started as to what had caused the fire the Appellant answered a police questionnaire and said in the course of answering it that he had been rescued by fireman. At his trial he repeated this. That was almost certainly a lie. His explanation for being dressed when nearly everyone else was in their night attire was that he had slept in his singlet and pants and, when rescued by the firemen, he had had time to put on his trousers and pick up his coat before leaving his room.


The next fire occurred at the Piccadilly Hotel. That was in the evening of the 19th December, 1974. On that occasion a fire broke out at about 7 p.m. in a corridor just outside the storeroom where the Appellant did his work as a foreman kitchen porter. That fire, fortunately, was quickly put out, but it was noticed that the Appellant who had had at the Worsley Hotel a terrifying experience, if he is right in his submission that he was in no way concerned with the starting of the fire there, took no interest in this fire; he made no attempt to help put it out and did not even go, as far as the evidence shows, to see what was happening.


The next day, when he was on duty, he again seemed to show no interest in this fire. Later, when he was seen by the police, his explanation for not taking any interest in the fire on the evening when it broke out was that he had been instructed by his superior on the kitchen staff to keep two swing doors open. That was a lie: he had not been so instructed.


The last fire was also at the Piccadilly Hotel. That was during the night of the 28th/29th December. That was a fire which broke out in the very early hours of the morning.


There was evidence first that a waste paper bin which had come from his room was found near the seat of fire. There was also evidence that the Appellant, shortly before the fire broke out, had been in the vicinity of the seat of fire. There was evidence that at about the time of the fire he was under the influence of drink. There was also evidence that he was not truthful in his answers to the police when he was asked about this fire. The evidence relating to the last fire can be summarised in this way. There was enough evidence showing opportunity to start the fire and prevarication after the fire to have justified a jury in coming to the conclusion that he had started that fire.


The prosecution decided to indict him in one indictment for all three fires and the seven alleged murders. The prosecution appreciated that unless they could satisfy the trial Judge that the evidence relating to all three fires was admissible in respect of each one of them then it would be a case for separate trials in relation to each fire.


Mr. Mathew, who conducted the case for the prosecution, had in mind some observations made by Lord Cross in the course of his speech in Boardman v. The Director of Public Prosecutions (1974) 3 All England Reports, 887. Lord Cross had suggested that when problems of this kind arise it is advisable at the very outset of the case for counsel for the Crown to seek the Judge's view as to whether the indictment should be split. As a result of Mr. Mathew acting on Lord Cross' suggestion and Mr. Cockburn, on behalf of the defence, submitting that it was a proper case for the indictment to be split in relation to each of the three fires, there was a long argument, which took most of a day, as to whether this was an appropriate case for the three cases of arson to be tried together. Mr. Mathew submitted that it was because there were features relating to these three fires which made them so similar that the evidence of similarity could properly be regarded as evidence of the identity of the arsonist. Mr. Cockburn submitted the contrary. He said that the alleged similarities were not sufficiently striking, if they were similarities at all, to justify the learned Judge admitting them in evidence in relation to all three cases of arson.


The alleged similarities can be summarised in this way: The fires had all occurred in parts of premises in which the staff of the Grand Metropolitan Hotel Group normally would have had access and normally no-one else would; that two of the fires had occurred in the Piccadilly Hotel in the staff quarters and the Worsley Hotel fire had occurred in premises to which 9 members of the Piccadilly Hotel staff had access at the time of the fire there. It was also said that the way in which the fires had started bore a striking similarity, one to another. All of them, according to the expert evidence, had been started by sprinkling some inflammable liquid on to carpets and then setting fire to the liquid. The inflammable liquid used had left no chemical traces behind. The inflammable liquid commonly available to members of the public which leaves no chemical trace behind, if burned completely, is methylated spirits; normally hydro-carbons, like petrol and paraffin, do leave some chemical deposit behind although, if there is a very large fire, those chemical deposits may disappear. There was some evidence that some of the seats of fire there was a smell of a chemical known as pyridine which is used to give methylated spirits their characteristic odour. One of the expert witnesses said that as far as he knew pyridine was only used as an ingredient of methylated spirits.


In relation to the fire on the 29th December, the experts were all agreed that it had been started with the use of an inflammable substance. There was evidence that what that inflammable substance contained was ethyl alcohol. Nobody was able to say in relation to the last fire whether that ethyl alcohol had come from methylated spirits but methylated spirits consist of 95 per cent ethyl alcohol, 4.5 per cent methyl alcohol and 0.5 per cent pyridine.


An argument was put forward on behalf of the Appellant that the fire might very well have started as a result of somebody spilling whisky on the floor, either deliberately or, alternatively, as a result of somebody's carelessness. I mention that matter because one of Mr. Cockburn's submissions was that the evidence relating to the use of an inflammable liquid did not necessarily establish that the inflammable liquid was methylated spirits. What is clear beyond argument is that on the evidence each of these three fires had been started by pouring an inflammable liquid on to a carpet and the evidence was consistent – we put it no higher than that – with the inflammable liquid having been methylated spirits. Further in each of the cases the fire had been started in a corridor in the part of two hotels used normally only by the staff.


The prosecution's case was that those various factors showed a degree of similarity between the fires which could reasonably lead to a Court inferring that the same man had started each of them. Mr. Cockburn's answer to that submission was that there was nothing striking about those similarities; there was nothing about them which would lead any reasonable person to consider that they had not been started by the same man. Mr. Cockburn invited our attention in detail to the speeches of their Lordships in the case of Boardman. In those sppeches picturesque examples were given...

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