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Gray v Barr [1971] 2 QB 554 Court of Appeal

Mr Gray and his wife had been married about eight years when they met and became very friendly with the Barrs, who lived close by. Both marriages were happy. Unfortunately Mr Gray became infatuated with Mrs Barr and she fell in love with him. Mrs Gray left her husband. Mrs Barr moved in with her mother while making a decision as to what to do next. One night she went out to dinner with her husband who persuaded her to come home. When they returned home Mr Barr put the car into the garage and came into find his wife had left. He assumed she had gone to Mr Gray's home. He went to Mr Gray's home armed with a 12 bore shotgun. He saw Mr Gray at the top of the stairs and assumed his wife was in the bedroom so went upstairs. Mr Gray grabbed the gun and Mr Barr grappled with him the gun went off firing a shot into the ceiling at which point Mr Barr slipped on the stairs. The gun then went off again this time killing Mr Gray. At his criminal trial the jury had much sympathy for Mr Barr and acquitted him of manslaughter. Mrs Gray then sought to bring a civil claim for damages against Mr Barr for the death of her husband. The judge awarded £6,668. Mr Barr sought to claim off of an insurance policy that indemnified him for accidental injury. The insurance company refused to pay on the grounds that it was contrary to public policy for a contract to have the effect of relieving a person of their liability arising from criminal conduct. Mr Barr argued the as he had been acquitted by a jury his policy should not be invalidated.


Despite the decision of the jury, Mr Barr had clearly committed manslaughter. It would be against public policy to relieve him of the consequences of his crime.

Lord Denning's quote relating to manslaughter below was for a time taken to be the direction for constructive manslaughter, however, in DPP v Newberry it was held that this definition of manslaughter was inaccurate and in any event not binding given that it was given in a civil case.

Lord Denning:

"In manslaughter of every kind there must be a guilty mind. Without it the accused must be acquitted: See Reg. v. Lamb [1967] 2 Q.B. 981. In the category of manslaughter relating to an unlawful act, the accused must do a dangerous act with the intention of frightening or harming someone or with the realisation that it is likely to frighten or harm someone, and nevertheless thereafter, in unbroken sequence .cause the death of another, he is guilty he goes on and does it, regardless of the consequences. ".
Back to lecture outline on constructive manslaughter in Criminal Law