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R v Stephenson [1979] QB 695 Court of Appeal

The appellant was homeless and schizophrenic. He found refuge in a haystack where he made a hollow and tried to go to sleep. He was cold so he lit a fire inside the hollow to keep himself warm. Inevitably the whole haystack caught fire and he ran off and was picked up by the police. The defendant contended that he never thought of the possibility of a the whole stack catching fire. At his trial a consultant psychiatrist gave evidence that he had a long history of schizophrenia and this would mean that the defendant was quite capable of lighting a fire in a haystack without ever thinking of the danger involved. The trial judge directed the jury:

"First you perhaps want to ask yourselves whether in lighting the fire the accused carried out a deliberate act, and the answer to that one thinks must be yes, because he has said that he lit the fire. Secondly, you may want to ask yourselves whether you regard it or not as an obvious fact that there was some risk of damage, and when the act is the act of lighting a fire inside a straw stack, you may have little difficulty in dealing with the question whether it is an obvious fact that there is some risk of damage. Did he then do that knowing or closing his mind to the obvious fact, in the case from which these words are taken, as I say the reason advanced or the reason found for the man closing his mind to the obvious fact was that he was so angry that he pressed on regardless, and there may be...... all kinds of reasons which make a man close his mind to the obvious fact — among them may be schizophrenia, that he is a schizophrenic."

The jury convicted the defendant.

Court of Appeal Held:

Defendant's conviction was quashed. The direction was a misdirection. The test should be entirely subjective, if the defendant did not foresee a risk of damage he should not be liable.
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