Crime CLXIV-Criminal Damage IV
The mens rea for criminal damage or the mental element that the prosecution needs to satisfy before it can obtain a conviction for criminal damage is either: -
1) intention i.e. the defendant intended to cause the damage that resulted
2) recklessness i.e. the defendant did not give any thought to the damage that would result from his actions or having given it some thought, dismissed it.
In R v Smith (1974) the defendant was a tenant in a ground floor flat. He obtained the permission of the landlord to install some sound equipment and sound proofing equipment.
When his tenancy was up, and he had to vacate the property, the tenant not only uninstalled the sound equipment and sound proofing equipment, but he also ripped out the wires that ran below the flooring.
Unknown to the defendant the sound equipment and the soundproofing equipment had become a permanent feature of the flat and were thus regarded as the property of the landlord (a similar situation would apply to renovations done to a rental property and while the tenant is entitled to enjoy the benefits of the renovations while he is there, when he decides to leave or has to vacate he cannot try and undo the renovations for the simple reason that it might damage the property).
The tenant was convicted for criminal damage and appealed on the grounds that since he’d paid for the sound equipment and soundproofing equipment, he was entitled to damage them. He honestly believed that they belonged to him and therefore he was entitled to do with them as he liked.
The conviction was quashed. A mistaken but honest belief in such situations is a defense to a charge of causing criminal damage. However, that mistaken belief has to be reasonable (reasonable implying that it is a mistake than a normal person or an average person would make), and in this instance the court held that it was.
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