Unlawful killing

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In English law, unlawful killing is a verdict that can be returned by an inquest in England and Wales when someone has been killed by one or several unknown persons. The verdict means that the killing was done without lawful excuse and in breach of criminal law. This includes murder, manslaughter, infanticide and causing death by dangerous driving. A verdict of unlawful killing generally leads to a police investigation, with the aim of gathering sufficient evidence to identify, charge and prosecute those responsible.

The inquest does not normally name any individual person as responsible.[1] The standard of proof is that the unlawful killing must be beyond reasonable doubt. If this standard is not met, a verdict of accidental death or death by misadventure on the balance of probabilities may be returned.[1]

Notable cases[edit]

A verdict of unlawful killing was returned in the following notable cases:

  • Lt Col Rupert Thorneloe and Trooper Joshua Hammond, of the 2nd Royal Tank Regiment, were killed in an explosion in Helmand Province in Afghanistan on 1 July 2009.[2]
  • Ian Tomlinson, who was struck with a baton and pushed to the ground by Metropolitan Police officer Simon Harwood at the G20 protests in London on 1 April 2009.[3]
  • Diana, Princess of Wales and Dodi Al-Fayed, killed in a car crash on 6 September 1997. A verdict of unlawful killing was returned in a 2008 inquest in London; the initial French enquiry in 1999 concluded the crash was caused by the driver's loss of control while drunk.[4]
  • Trooper Matty Hull, killed in a US friendly fire incident in 2003.[5]
  • Terry Lloyd, ITN journalist, who was fired on by United States tanks near Basra on 22 March 2003.[6]
  • Iain Hook, UNRWA worker, shot by an Israeli sniper in Jenin in 2002.[7]
  • Tom Hurndall, shot by an Israeli sniper in the Gaza Strip in 2003.[8]
  • The fifty-two victims of the 7 July 2005 London bombings were declared on 6 May 2011 to have been unlawfully killed.[9]
  • Ronald Maddison, an airman who died whilst acting as an experimental subject in chemical weapons testing in 1953. A verdict of unlawful killing was returned in a 2004 inquest; the original 1953 inquest had returned a verdict of misadventure.[10]
  • David Gray, a patient in his home in Cambridgeshire, was unlawfully killed by lethal injection administered by out-of-hours locum doctor Daniel Ubani on February 16, 2008.[11]
  • The death of 96 Liverpool F.C. fans in the Hillsborough disaster on 15 April 1989, with the ruling returned at a second inquest in April 2016: A previous inquest in 1991 had returned a verdict of accidental death.[12]


  1. ^ a b Lord Mackay of Clashfern (ed.) (2006) Halsbury's Laws of England, 4th ed. reissue, vol.9(2), "Coroners", 1043. Killed unlawfully
  2. ^ Morris, Steven (30 April 2010). "Rupert Thorneloe was unlawfully killed in Afghanistan, inquest finds". The Guardian. Retrieved 27 April 2016.
  3. ^ "Ian Tomlinson unlawfully killed, inquest finds". The Guardian. 3 May 2011. Retrieved 3 May 2011.
  4. ^ "Princess Diana unlawfully killed". BBC. 7 April 2008. Retrieved 27 April 2016.
  5. ^ "Search for truth on 'friendly fire' death". BBC News. 16 March 2007. Retrieved 27 May 2010.
  6. ^ "Iraq reporter unlawfully killed". BBC News. 13 October 2006. Retrieved 27 May 2010.
  7. ^ "British UN worker unlawfully shot". BBC. 16 December 2005. Retrieved 13 December 2008.
  8. ^ "'Unlawful killing' of Gaza Briton". BBC News. 10 April 2006. Retrieved 27 May 2010.
  9. ^ "7/7 inquests: Emergency delays 'did not cause deaths'". BBC. 6 May 2011. Retrieved 6 May 2011.
  10. ^ "Nerve gas death was 'unlawful'". BBC. 15 November 2004. Retrieved 27 April 2016.
  11. ^ "'Doctor Daniel Ubani unlawfully killed overdose patient'". Guardian newspaper. Retrieved 4 Feb 2010.
  12. ^ "Hillsborough inquests: Fans unlawfully killed, jury concludes". BBC News. 27 April 2016. Retrieved 27 April 2016.

External links[edit]