Unlawful killing

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For the 2011 documentary film, see Unlawful Killing (film).

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]

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

  • Lt Col Rupert Thorneloe and trooper Joshua Hammond, of 2nd Royal Tank Regiment, were killed in an explosion in Helmand province on 1 July 2009.
  • A jury decided on 3 May 2011 that Ian Tomlinson had been unlawfully killed when he was struck with a baton and pushed to the ground by Metropolitan Police officer Simon Harwood at the G20 protests that took place in London on 1 April 2009.[2]
  • A jury decided on 7 April 2008 that Diana, Princess of Wales and Dodi Al-Fayed had been unlawfully killed.
  • Matty Hull, killed in an U.S. friendly fire incident in 2003.[3]
  • Terry Lloyd, who was fired on by United States tanks near Basra on 22 March 2003.[4]
  • Iain Hook, UNRWA worker shot by an Israeli sniper in Jenin in 2002.[5]
  • Tom Hurndall, shot by an Israeli sniper in the Gaza Strip in 2003.[6]
  • The inquest into the July 7 Bombings decided on 6 May 2011 declared that the victims had been unlawfully killed.[7]
  • 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.
  • 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.[8]


  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. ^ "Ian Tomlinson unlawfully killed, inquest finds". The Guardian. 3 May 2011. Retrieved 3 May 2011. 
  3. ^ "Search for truth on 'friendly fire' death". BBC News. 16 March 2007. Retrieved 27 May 2010. 
  4. ^ "Iraq reporter unlawfully killed". BBC News. 13 October 2006. Retrieved 27 May 2010. 
  5. ^ "British UN worker unlawfully shot". BBC. 16 December 2005. Retrieved 13 December 2008. 
  6. ^ "'Unlawful killing' of Gaza Briton". BBC News. 10 April 2006. Retrieved 27 May 2010. 
  7. ^ "7/7 inquests: Emergency delays 'did not cause deaths'". BBC. 6 May 2011. Retrieved 6 May 2011. 
  8. ^ "'Doctor Daniel Ubani unlawfully killed overdose patient'". Guardian newspaper. Retrieved 4 Feb 2010. 

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