R v Benge – Case Summary

R v Benge

Assizes Court

Citations: (1865) 4 Foster and Finlason 504; 176 ER 665.


This case concerned a fatal train accident. The defendant was the foreman of a group of plate-layers, whose job was to repair, take up and replace the rails. He was given a time-book with the train schedule in it to enable him to properly time the repairs.

The defendant misread the time-book, and took up the rails half an hour before a train was due to pass over them. The train driver was not paying attention, and so hit the breaks too late to stop the train before it derailed. Many were killed. The defendant was charged with gross negligence manslaughter.

  1. Did the fact that the train driver was negligent preclude the defendant’s acts and omissions from being the legal cause of death?

The defendant was found guilty. His negligence had been a substantial cause of death, which was sufficient to establish legal causation.

This Case is Authority For…

In criminal law, a defendant’s actions do not need to be the only cause of the proscribed outcome. They need only be a substantial cause.

Piggot B explained that if this was not the case, then no one would be causally responsible in a case like this – an absurd result.