Capital & Counties v Hampshire County Council – Case Summary

Capital and Counties Plc v Hampshire County Council

Court of Appeal

Citations: [1997] QB 1004; [1997] 3 WLR 331; [1997] 2 All ER 865; [1997] 2 Lloyd’s Rep 161; (1997) 147 NLJ 599; (1997) 141 SJLB 92.


The claimants alleged that the fire department acted negligently or breached of statutory duty when attending fires at their property.

  1. In the first case, the fire service turned off a sprinkler system, causing a fire to spread out of control.
  2. In the second case, the fire had already been extinguished by a third-party. However, it broke out again after the fire service had declared the area was safe.
  3. In the third case, the fire brigade was unable to stop the fire as they ran out of water. Fire brigade are under a statutory duty to have enough water to put out fires (Fire Services Act 1947).
  1. In what circumstances, do the fire service owe a duty of care in negligence to those who call for assistance?
  2. Does the Fire Services Act 1947 create a right to sue for damages due to breach of statutory duty?

The Court of Appeal held that:

  1. A duty of care was owed to the first claimant. The fire service had created or exacerbated the danger by turning off the sprinklers.
  2. A duty of care was not owed to the second claimant.
  3. A duty of care was not owed to the third claimant. The Fire Services Act 1947 did not allow for an action for breach of statutory duty.
This Case is Authority For…

The fire service:

  • is not under a duty to answer a call for assistance;
  • is not under a duty to fight fires reasonably if they do attend the scene;
  • are under a duty not to create new dangers or exacerbate existing ones if they do answer a call.

A statute is unlikely to give rise to an action for breach of statutory duty if it merely imposes ‘targets’ on public authorities.


The effect of this case is that the fire service can be liable for making the fire worse than it would have been. However, they cannot be liable for failing to stop the fire if they did not make it worse.