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   Case summaries      R v Howe & Bannister

R v Howe & Bannister [1987] 2 WLR 568 House of Lords

Howe & Bailey both aged 19 and Bannister aged 20, were acting under orders of Murray aged 35. The charges related to two murders and one conspiracy to murder. The first murder related to a 17 year old male victim, Elgar. Murray had driven them all to a public lavatory. Elgar was naked and sobbing and was subjected to torture and compelled to undergo sexual perversions. Howe and Bannister took part in kicking and punching Elgar and were told they would succumb to similar treatment if they did not do as Murray ordered. Bailey strangled Elgar resulting in his death. The second killing took place the following night at the same location on a 19 year old male Pollitt. Murray had ordered Howe and Bannister to strangle him and they complied. The third charge related to a similar incident, however, the intended victim managed to escape.


The defence of duress is not available for murder whether it be a principal in the first or second degree. DPP for Northern Ireland v Lynch overruled.

Obiter dicta - The defence should not be available to one who attempts murder.

Lord Griffiths:

“We face a rising tide of violence and terrorism against which the law must stand firm recognising that its highest duty is to protect the freedom and lives of those that live under it. The sanctity of human life lies at the root of this ideal and I would do nothing to undermine it, be it ever so slight. 

Attempted murder requires proof of an intent to kill, whereas in murder it is sufficient to prove an intent to cause really serious injury. It can not be right to allow the defence to one who may be more intent upon taking a life than the murderer.”
Back to lecture outline on the defence of duress in criminal law
Back to lecture outline on judicial precedent in sources of law