Wright v Wright

JurisdictionEngland & Wales
CourtCourt of Appeal
Judgment Date22 Feb 1960
Judgment citation (vLex)[1960] EWCA Civ J0222-3

[1960] EWCA Civ J0222-3

In The Supreme Court of Judicature

Court of Appeal


Lord Justice Hodson

Lord Justice Harman and

Mr. Justice Havers

Winifred Annie Alice Wright
Cyril John Wright

Mr. JAMES COMYN and Mr. R.B. HOLROYD PEARCE (instructed by Messrs. Warmingtons & Trevor Jones) appeared on behalf of the Appellant (Husband, Respondent).

Mr. STANLEY REES. Q.C., Mr. H.S. LAW and Mr. WALKER (instructed by Messrs. Barnett & Barnett) appeared on behalf of the Respondent (Wife, Petitioner).


The judgment which I am about to read is the judgment of the court.


This appeal is by the husband against the judgment and order of Mr Justice Wrangham, whereby he granted to the wife Petitioner a decree nisi of divorce on the ground of the husband's cruelty.


The parties were married on the 9th June, 1935, the wife then being 22 and the husband 27. There were three children of the marriage: Valerie, born on 30th July, 1937; Iris, born on 5th May, 1940; and David, born on 8th July, 1943. Apart from two incidents, one in August, 1935, and the other in July, 1942, the cruelty alleged by the wife against the husband was the ill-treatment of the two children Iris and David, in the presence of the wife and despite her protests, by beating them on the head and ears with his hand with unnecessary violence and without good reason. This conduct of the husband was said to have caused the wife great distress and led to the impairment of her health.


The incident in August, 1935, soon after the marriage, arose out of a quarrel between the husband and wife, as a result of which the wife locked herself in a room and refused to unlock the door. The husband became angry and threatened to break open the door and eventually broke some part of the door. This was the only occasion on which it was alleged that the husband displayed any violence towards his wife. Mr. Justice Wrangham attached no importance to this incident as it was so long ago except that he thought it illustrated the very quick tamper of the husband which he found difficult to control. This we think is clearly right.


The incident in July, 1942, was on the occasion of Valerie's birthday party at which a number of children were present. When the husband arrived home he told his wife in rather a peremptory manner to get rid of the children. Mr. Justice Wrangham attached no importance to this incident, and rightly in our opinion.


There remained the conduct of the husband towards the two children, Iris and David. So far as Iris was concerned, the conduct of the husband towards her which was complained of took place while the husband and wife and the children were living in the home of the wife's parents at Sunbury for 12 to 18 months in 1949/50. Mr. Justice Wrangham found that living with the wife's parents was a singularly unwise arrangement, partly because the influence of the wife's mother throughout the marriage was a had one and partly because, apart from the natural difficulty of a young couple living with the wife's parents, the husband simply would not fit in. At this time Iris was coming up to the age of 9 or 10 and slightly obtrusive and the husband found her growing up like that rather a nuisance and in his way. Mr. Justice Wrangham found that the husband would punish her, not maliciously nor with any notion that he was really punishing her, with a smack over the head or the ears - and not one but more than one - for merely being in his way at the time. Mr. Justice Wrangham accepted the evidence of Iris that at that time she actually became frightened of her father. The wife used to ask her husband to stop, and he refused. Mr. Justice Wrangham thought that the wife was entitled to object to this conduct of the husband, not because it was necessarily cruel but because the husband was not deliberately and thoughtfully punishing the child for its good. Mr. Justice Wrangham found that the husband was merely in a fit of temper or irritation hitting the child harder than she should have been hit and in circumstances in which it was not really justifiable to hit her at all.


Mr. Justice Wrangham, however, regarded the treatment of Iris as of no importance except in so far as it throws light on the character and disposition of the husband in this case, because it did not last for more than 12 to 18 months and had ceased for years before action brought. We agree with all those findings. The whole case of the Petitioner therefore rested upon the conduct of the husband towards David between 1950 and July, 1957. By this time the husband and wife and the children had moved to their own home at Gloucester Road, Hampton. David was then about 8, the same obtrusive age that Iris had reached a year or so before. Mr. Justice Wrangham found that the same thing happened with David as had happened with Iris. He got in his father's way and irritated his father. The result of his getting in his father's way and the irritation was that he got continually slapped on the side of the head and on the head.


The learned judge believed the evidence of Mr. Everitt, the wife's father (whom he thought was a convincing witness) that the way in which the husband treated David went far beyond anything that was reasonable at all. Mr. Everitt told the husband that this was not the way to punish the boy, but the husband paid no attention. Iris stated in evidence that David was struck with great severity, mostly about the ears or face, and the result was that her mother was very upset. Mr. Justice Wrangham found that the husband was treating this boy in a way in which he ought not to be treated; that he did not confine himself to a single clip on the ear for a naughty boy but was hitting him on the head more than once; that there were occasions when the wife attempted to interfere and was pushed out of the way. The learned Judge did not believe that these punishments were administered in order to teach the child not to do it again nor for the child's good; they were mere outbursts of ill-temper against a child which had irritated its father, possibly by doing something that was wrong or possibly by doing something that was not really from the child's point of view wrong at all. Mr. Justice Wrangham found that this form of treatment was particularly bad for David because he was a boy who could not stand that type of thing.


It was alleged in the petition that in or about the year 1955 the petitioner found David, who had been frightened by his father's attitude to him, with a gas poker in his hand attempting to gas himself. The only evidence in support of this allegation was the evidence of the wife that one afternoon, after the boy returned from school, she found him with the gas poker in his hand and he said no one wanted him, no one cared. This evidence was wholly inadequate to justify the allegation that the boy was attempting to kill himself, and the learned judge did not find this allegation proved. The learned judge accepted that the boy said and at the moment believed that nobody loved him and that he had a chip on his shoulder, but did not accept that the state of the boy was wholly due to his father's treatment of him. The criticism which the learned judge made about the father was that if he had been an affectionate and observant father, he would have known about it and noticed it, but instead of noticing it he went on treating the boy in the same way throughout those years.


The learned judge also found that the husband must have known very well that his wife's health was very likely to have been impaired by his continuance of treatment which she clearly disliked as being harsh, but despite that knowledge that he must have had that that would be the effect upon his wife he continued in the same course.


Matters went on in this way until by the Summer of 1957 the situation was getting worse and worse. Some time in the Summer of 1957 - probably June - the wife said that she heard a noise and banging in the front room and went in and found the husband hitting David about the head and ears again, and very hard. The wife said that she complained and told her husband that, if the boy had done anything wrong, would he please correct him in the proper manner. He told her to mind her own bloody business and he would do as he liked in his own house and that her bloody parents had spoilt him - that is to say, David. He said he would hit the boy where he liked and called the boy "a swine". There was no express finding about this, but the husband said there was an occasion when he said he would strike the boy when and where he liked. He could not recollect calling him "a swine", but he might have said it on that one occasion when he was annoyed.


After this, in the Summer of 1957 the wife consulted Dr. Gold about this matter. She said she went with her husband and that they were both present when the doctor told the husband that he ought not to hit David any more about the head or face. The husband says he went alone, as his wife had told him the doctor wanted to see him. The husband said that from that time he did not strike the boy again. There is no evidence that he ever did. Unfortunately he never told his wife, because he was annoyed with her for consulting the doctor about David.


At the end of July or early in August, David went to stay with the wife's parents at Herne Lay during the school holidays. He was then at a school at Hampton, So far as the husband knew, he was due to return to the school early in September. Before, however, the holidays were over, the wife had arranged with her parents that the boy should continue to stay with them at the end of the holidays and had made arrangements with the school authorities that he should be transferred from the Hampton school to a school at Canterbury. On Sunday the 8th September, the husband, the wife and Iris...

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