Ingram v Little – Case Summary

Ingram v Little

Court of Appeal

Citations: [1961] 1 QB 31; [1960] 3 WLR 504; [1960] 3 All ER 332; [1960] CLY 550.


The claimants owned a car, which they sold to a rogue. When the rogue attempted to pay by cheque, they informed him that they would only accept payment by cash. To reassure them, the rogue pretended to be a reputable businessman living at a particular address. The claimants checked, and a businessman by the same name did live at that address. The claimants agreed to accept payment by cheque. The cheque bounced and the rogue absconded with the car.

The rogue later sold the car to the defendant. The claimants sued the defendant for the return of the car or alternatively for damages in conversion. To establish this, they had to show that they never made a contract with the rogue due to their unilateral mistake. If they had a contract which was merely voidable for misrepresentation, property would have passed to the rogue. The rogue would then have passed good property to the defendant before the contract could be voided. At this point, the claimants would have lost the right to void the contract.

  1. Was any contract between the claimant and the rogue void for mistake of identity?

The Court of Appeal held in favour of the claimant. The claimants were treated as having made the offer to the real businessman, not to the rogue. Since the rogue was incapable of accepting the offer on the businessman’s behalf, there was no contract due to the mistake.

This Case is Authority For…

Where parties contract face-to-face, and one party assumes the identity of the other person, the court must consider to whom the offer is addressed. This is determined by reference to who the promisee ought to have interpreted the offer.

This case has been disapproved of in later cases, particularly Lewis v Averay (No 1) [1972] 1 QB 198. It appears to conflict with the result reached in Phillips v Brooks Ltd [1919] 2 KB 243, a case with similar facts.

Pearce LJ distinguished Phillips v Brooks Ltd [1919] 2 KB 243 on the grounds that the fake name was only mentioned in that case after the deal was concluded. The purpose of the deception was to allow the rogue to leave with the goods before the cheque cleared, not to induce the contract to begin with.


Devlin LJ dissented. He argued that parties contracting face-to-face should be presumed to intent to contract with the person in front of them – whoever that turns out to be. Any mistake relating to identity in that context is merely a mistake as to the rogue’s attributes – namely his creditworthiness. Mere attributes not being part of the contract, the defence of mistake was inapplicable. Devlin LJ saw no evidence in this case that rebutted that presumption.

This approach is more consistent with later cases, such as Lewis v Averay (No 1) [1972] 1 QB 198.