Why was Nathan Sumner not guilty of Attempted Murder?

Why was Nathan Sumner not guilty of Attempted Murder?

Photo from the BBC

Sometimes we get asked questions, or receive requests to cover a specific case, and when we do then we try (day job permitting) to answer them sometimes, as with this, a bit late.

Last week Nathan Sumner was convicted of an offence of s18 after a brutal attack on a police officer, Lisa Bates, caused her to lose a finger, have a fractured skill and a smashed ankle.

When Mr Sumner was arrested, it was only after a large number of officers had come as back up, and Mr Sumner had been tasered. He said to one onlooker “I’ve cut two people’s heads off with an axe and you are next, you crazy bitch“.

A question that was asked by several people is why, given the ferocity of the attack and the fact the Mr Sumner “chased her, shouting “I’m gonna kill you” when PC Bates attended his flat on a call out and tried to arrest him, Mr Sumner was only convicted of s18 rather than attempted murder.

The short answer is that the jury, who heard all the evidence (including the agreed fact that Mr Sumner was suffering a psychotic episode at the time) concluded that although they were sure that Mr Sumner intended to cause PC Bates really serious harm, they were not sure that he was intending to kill her.

At the end of the day, that is what juries are for – they heard all the evidence over several days (and however good the reporting is, a news report won’t be able to do this justice).

In any event, the line between a s18 and an attempted murder is a blurred one in many cases. Sometimes it is clear cut – if you try to shoot someone in the head, it is virtually certain that you are intending to all the person. With other attacks it is less certain.

In this case, although the attack was a horrific one, it would have been a fast moving one, and when your bear in mind him being in a psychotic state you can see why a jury would have decided that they were not sure he was intending to kill.

For the record, the Judge has adjourned the matter to get an update on Mr Sumner’s ‘mental state’ before passing sentence. On the facts, he would appear to be dangerous, and it is quite likely that he will get a life sentence. It may well be that the difference in sentence for an attempted murder as opposed to a s18 is not that great.

Hope that helps.

Dan is a barrister at 2 Dr. Johnson’s Buildings practising in crime.


  1. ….”I’m going to kill you”….’.the jury were…..not sure he intended to kill her’.

    Mmmm……run that one by me again. I guess no real biggie, just fractured skull, smashed ankle and losing a finger….he clearly just wanted to share the love.

    I would argue the fact that he was in a psychotic state would actually make him more determined to kill from what I read about mental illnesses.

    • Well, you and I have read a couple of news reports, the jury heard a five day trial, so I’d go with what they say.

      As to the comment, have you never said “I’m going to kill X/you” in circumstances where it wasn’t meant?

      • I have indeed heard the phrased used Dan, but being chased down the street by a psychotic homicidal maniac puts a bit more context to the phrase don’t you think ?

        A fractured skull is clearly a severe life threatening injury, which was inflicted by the assailant during the attack. Whatever his mental state this clearly indicates to me the intent to kill was real.

  2. The phrase has been said many times by many people even in gest or maybe a family feud but not ment in context. I have to agree with the Captain on this one.

  3. But even in the context of a serious violent attack, it does not automatically follow that, in his state of mind, he intended death as opposed to serious injury.

    The prosecution had a considerable amount of time and evidence to put their case that he intended death to be the result of his actions, and they failed to make 12 people sure of it.

    • RF, how do we know what his state of mind was if he was psychotic ? How can we or the jury say that he didn’t intend to kill ? Are they mind readers ? My point is if I’d been a juror I’d have looked at what he said, what he did and what was the outcome, within the context of the overall situation.

      I’m sure the defence argued that he was delusional and didn’t really know what he was doing. Do we apply the same argument to someone who is drunk or high on drugs who viciously attack someone as they may argue they were mentally incapacitated at the time ?

      “Sorry M’Lud but I’d had a few sherberts and a bit of Charlie so I didn’t really know what I was thinking and you cant charge me with attempted murder if I was off my head”. I don’t think that would work somehow.

  4. It is unfortunate that serious mental illness is connected with ‘homicidal maniac’ again when the jury have clearly stated he was not! Surely in a case like this expert psychiatric evidence would have been heard which would have assisted the jury to come to this sensible conclusion. And making the conscious decision to take substances isn’t the same as suffering a mental illness through no fault of your own.