22nd October 2020
- The quashing of Ceon Broughton’s conviction was met with indignation. The well-publicised tragedy of Louella Fletcher-Michie’s death, and Ceon Broughton’s subsequent trial, has cemented a number of conclusions in the court of public opinion. This article will set out why the Court of Appeal decided to overturn Mr Broughton’s conviction for manslaughter.
- Louella died at Bestival Music Festival after having taken a Class A drug called 2C-P, as well as ketamine and ecstasy. The 2C-P was supplied to Louella by Mr Broughton, her boyfriend.
- Louella had a bad reaction to the drugs. Mr Broughton remained with her. He failed to obtain timely medical assistance and was accordingly convicted of gross negligence manslaughter.
In a nutshell
- In one sentence, Mr Broughton’s appeal succeeded because there was insufficient evidence to prove beyond reasonable doubt that his failure to obtain medical help caused Louella to die.
Gross negligence manslaughter
- There are 6 elements to gross negligence manslaughter:
a) the defendant must owe a duty of care to the victim;
b) the defendant must negligently breach that duty of care;
c) at the time of breach, there must be a serious and obvious risk of death;
d) at the time of breach, it must be reasonably foreseeable that the breach gives rise to a serious and obvious risk of death;
e) the breach must cause or make a significant contribution to the death of the victim; and
f) in the view of the jury, the circumstances of the breach must justify criminal sanction.
- The Court of Appeal agreed with Mr Broughton’s counsel that in cases of negligent medical assistance or failing to obtain medical assistance, the prosecution must prove beyond reasonable doubt that the victim would have lived in the sense that life would have been significantly prolonged.
- In other words, the prosecution must prove that the gross negligence caused the death by excluding realistic or plausible possibilities that the deceased would anyway have died.
- It was also expressly stated that in this type of case, there needs to be a clear focus on when the condition of the deceased reached the threshold of serious and obvious risk of death, what the accused should have done then and the prospects of survival at that point.
The expert evidence
- The prosecution relied on the evidence of four experts. Only one expert, Professor Deakin, dealt with the issue of causation. He framed his conclusion by reference to the criminal standard of proof:
In view of the lack of previously documented deaths from 2CP, the combined effect of three stimulant drugs and the unknown mechanism that resulted in Louella’s death, it is not possible to state beyond reasonable doubt that earlier medical intervention would have been able to save Louella’s life once she had ingested the 2CP.
- In his second report, Professor Deakin put Louella’s chances of survival at 90%. However, he reiterated that:
It is not possible to be certain beyond reasonable doubt as to whether medical intervention could have reversed [Louella’s] demise.
- Whilst the mechanism of Louella’s death was unclear, it was established that the cause of death flowed from the ingestion of the combination of drugs found in Louella’s system.
- There were therefore two concurrent causes of death in issue: first, the effect of the drugs taken by Louella and secondly, want of medical attention after the time when her condition became obviously critical.
- The Court of Appeal re-stated the relevant legal test as follows:
To establish the guilt of the appellant the prosecution had to make the jury sure that at the time when Louella’s condition was such that there was a serious and obvious risk of death the appellant was grossly negligent in failing to obtain medical assistance and that such assistance would have saved her life.
- The only evidence before the jury on the issue of causation was Professor Deakin’s. There was no further evidence of a non-expert nature which could assist the jury in resolving that issue.
- It followed, held the Court of Appeal, that the prosecution had failed to exclude the realistic possibility that, despite receiving timely medical treatment, Louella would have died. The Court felt that even Professor Deakin’s estimation of a 90% chance of survival left a realistic possibility of death.
- Given that Professor Deakin’s evidence was the totality of the evidence on causation, the prosecution could not meet the legal test because causation could not be proved to the requisite criminal standard. The case should have been withdrawn from the jury.
- Although it was beyond reasonable doubt that the drugs caused Louella’s death and that medical intervention could have saved her, no jury could have been sure that Louella would have lived if Mr Broughton had sought medical assistance. The legal test is a high one, which in this case could only be measured by reference to the expert evidence. That evidence was not coterminous with the criminal standard of proof.
This article Why was Ceon Broughton’s conviction quashed? was written by Oliver Foy, for more information on his practice, please contact our clerking team via our switchboard on 01962 868 161 or via email: firstname.lastname@example.org