Richard Barraclough KC was instructed by West Midlands CPS and led Robert Price for the prosecution.

December 6, 2023

Richard Barraclough KC was instructed by West Midlands CPS and led Robert Price for the prosecution.  On 29th November a jury sitting at Stafford Crown Court (Calver J) acquitted the defendant of unlawful act manslaughter and convicted him of gross negligence manslaughter.

The defendant and the deceased lived together. It was a loving relationship. Both were alcoholics. The deceased binge drank. The Crown alleged that following a bout of drinking and after her soiling herself the defendant pushed her into a bath of scalding water. The immersion had been set at 82 degrees many years before. When paramedics arrived, they found the deceased with scald marks on her body and piles of skin on the floor.

The fact that the deceased was utterly incapable and vulnerable and entirely under his control placed a duty on him to take care at least when putting her into the bath and he did not do so. Pushing her into a scalding bath at a temperature equivalent to a kettle of boiling water created an obvious and serious risk of death. The opinion was that to immerse someone with BELL’s vulnerabilities into a bath with water at a temperature of 82 degrees presents an obvious and serious risk of death. At 80 degrees the burning would start in under a second. Progression to a deep burn would happen very quickly.

Evidence was called from two pathologists, two toxicologists, a pharmacologist and a burns specialist.

The primary cause of death was alcoholic ketoacidosis on a background of scald injury and alcoholic liver disease. The loss of the integrity of the skin by reason of the burns would increase the deceased’s metabolic requirements. It added to her physiological burden. The scald would have played an important role in her death.

Following the decision in REBELO 2021 2Cr. App. R3, the indictment contained one count particularising the two limbs of manslaughter. Whilst it is possible to convict both of unlawful act and gross negligence manslaughter, the view was taken that the jury should first consider unlawful act manslaughter based on an allegation of assault when the defendant pushed her into the bath. If the jury convicted of unlawful act manslaughter, then they should proceed no further. If they acquitted of unlawful act manslaughter, they should go on to consider gross negligence manslaughter. Thus, the jury were able to acquit of the one but convict of the other. This avoided having to take a special verdict although it deprived the jury of convicting on both limbs.

In the right case it would be possible to ask them to return a verdict on both unlawful act and gross negligence manslaughter within the one count.