R v White – Case Summary

R v White

Court of Appeal

Citations: [1910] 2 KB 124.


The defendant bought poison a short time before his mother was found dead next to a glass of poisoned lemonade. The medical evidence showed that she had not died from poisoning and there was no evidence of poison in her body. It seemed that she died completely coincidentally from a heart attack. There was also not enough poison in the glass to kill an adult woman. A jury convicted the defendant of attempted murder.

  1. Was there enough evidence for the jury to conclude that the defendant intended to kill his mother?
  2. Could there be an attempt when the completed act was insufficient to bring about the ultimate crime?

The Court of Appeal upheld the defendant’s conviction for attempted murder. There was enough evidence to conclude that the defendant had put the poison in the glass with intent to kill. The defendant’s acts were sufficient to amount to an attempt.

This Case is Authority For…

The defendant argued that the act of putting poison in the glass was not sufficient to amount to an attempt. This was because there was not enough poison in the glass to kill, meaning that if she had not coincidentally died of a heart attack the poison would not have killed her. For the poison to be deadly, the defendant would have had to poison her multiple times – possibly to slowly kill her to disguise the fact that she was being poisoned. Of course, he may or may not have decided to go through with the later poisonings.

The Court of Appeal rejected this argument. An attempt can be completed even though the relevant act is not capable of immediately having the proscribed result. Bray J stated that:

‘The completion or attempted completion of one of a series of acts intended by a man to result in killing is an attempt to murder even although this completed act would not, unless followed by the other acts, result in killing. It might be the beginning of the attempt, but would none the less be an attempt.’

In any case, there was evidence that the defendant thought that they had put enough poison in the glass to kill the woman, so the jury could have concluded that there was an attempt on this basis.


The fact that the defendant was convicted of attempted murder rather than murder demonstrates that a person does not cause a result (death in this case) unless but for the defendant’s acts, that result would have been avoided. In this case, even if the defendant had not put the poison in the glass, the woman would have died anyway.

This case also involved an appeal against the defendant’s sentence, applying principles which are no longer relevant to modern law.