There was rather a dramatic headline on the BBC website on 15th July 2014 – “Man fined after setting friend alight in Great Yarmouth“. That seems a rather fortunate sentence for setting somebody on fire?
As always, the devil is in the detail …
According to the BBC, Mr Marshall was sitting at a bar when he flicked his lighter towards his friend – Sam Taylor. Unfortunately, his friend had, unbeknownst to Mr Marshall, been doused in aftershave (there’s not a whole lot to do in Great Yarmouth) and caught on fire. It was put out, but not before the friend had burns to his hand and body.
The Great Yarmouth Mercury tells a slightly different story – the group of lads “as a joke, had been splashing one another with it in a bid to scupper their chances with women.
The friends had then “flicked” a lighter towards anyone who had been splashed, which had caused no damage. But when Marshall “flashed” the lighter at his friend in Long John’s Bar on Yarmouth’s Britannia Pier the prank went “terribly wrong”, magistrates heard.
Alison Cotterill, prosecuting, said one of the group had “poured” the remainder of the aftershave over Mr Taylor – more than “just a few splashes”. She added: “Mr Marshall… gets out a cigarette lighter, ignites the flame and flashes it initially towards one of the others.
“Mr Marshall turns round and then goes over to Mr Taylor. He then equally lights the lighter to Mr Taylor’s shirt and it just goes up in flames, he’s engulfed.”
Why is guilty of this?
Good question. The piece from the BBC leaves a bit of doubt – if this was a harmless prank, why is Mr Marshall guilty?
There needs to be a ‘hostile intent’ (see R v Lamb) – is flicking a lighter at someone demonstrating this? The answer is, probably, that Mr Marshall knew that Mr Taylor was covered in aftershave and was therefore reckless when waving the lighter around.
Another question is why is Mr Marshall not guilty of a more serious offence? After all, burns (even if only 7% burns) are pretty serious. Certainly Actual Bodily Harm you might think, even if not really serious harm?
It’s not clear. If he is guilty of Common Assault, he’s guilty of ABH and of inflicting the injury. We don’t have details of the injuries, but this may be an example of common sense in the charging decision by the CPS?