R v Ankerson (Kenneth)
Court of Appeal
Citations:  EWCA Crim 549.
The defendant’s relationship with his wife had broken down, and he had no contact with his children. He asked to speak to a social worker. During the interview threatened to burn down his wife’s house, regardless of who was inside, and then set himself on fire. The social worker contacted the police.
The defendant was charged with threatening to destroy or damage property in a way which makes another ‘fear’ the threat will be carried out, contrary to s.2A of the Criminal Justice Act 1971. He denied that he threatened to burn down the house. He also claimed that he did not intend the social worker to fear that he would burn down the house. The jury convicted him.
On appeal, the defendant argued that the judge misdirected the jury on the meaning of ‘intention to cause another to fear the threat would be carried out’. The judge alternated between saying the jury must believe the defendant intended the social worker to fear the threat ‘would’ be carried out, and ‘might’ be carried out. The latter, the defendant argued, was insufficient to establish the mens rea of the offence.
- What does the mens rea of s.2A of the Criminal Justice Act 1971 require?
The Court of Appeal upheld the defendant’s conviction. It was sufficient that the social worker thought that the attack might be carried out. This followed from the use of the word ‘fear’ in the statute:
‘To fear that something will happen is not to be equated with a belief that it will happen. It is to be anxious about the possibility it will happen. That anxiety or fear arises where there is a risk that it might happen. So in our view it is enough if the intention is to create in the mind an objective listener the genuine fear that the threat might be carried out. The listener can have that fear even where he or she is not certain that the threat will be carried out…It will not be enough if the risk, objectively viewed, is merely fanciful because then there would not be a real and genuine fear that the threat would be carried out.’