Lonrho Ltd v Shell Petroleum Co Ltd (No 2): CA 6 Mar 1981

Lonrho had supplied oil to Southern Rhodesia. It gave up this profitable business when the UK imposed sanctions on that country. It claimed that Shell had conspired unlawfully to break the sanctions, thereby prolonging the illegal regime in Southern Rhodesia and causing economic damage to Lonrho.
Held: No cause of action arose. The agreement, if any, to which Shell was a party was not made with any intent to injure the pipeline companies. The point of law was whether the agreement to do an unlawful act was actionable by anyone who suffers damage even though there was no intention to injure him.
Lord Denning discussed the law of unlawful means conspiracy: ‘So this point of law arises directly: Is an agreement to do an unlawful act actionable at the suit of anyone who suffers damage from it which is reasonably foreseeable? Even though the agreement is not directed at him, nor done with intent to injure him? In discussing this point of law I put aside the many modern cases on conspiracy – in which there is an agreement by two or more to do a lawful act. It is now settled by the House of Lords that such an agreement is actionable if it is done with the predominant motive of injuring the plaintiff and does in fact injure him: see Crofter Hand Woven Harris Tweed Co. Ltd v Veitch [1942] AC 435, where Lord Simon LC said, at p 445: ‘Liability must depend on ascertaining the predominant purpose. If that predominant purpose is to damage another person and damage results, that is tortuous conspiracy’. Here we are concerned with a different problem altogether. It is an agreement by two or more to do an unlawful act. . . I think there is a cause of action when it is remembered that the tort is a conspiracy to injure. I would suggest that a conspiracy to do an unlawful act – when there is no intent to injure the plaintiff and it is not aimed or directed at him – is not actionable, even though he is damaged thereby. But if there is an intent to injure him then it is actionable. The intent to injure may not be the predominant motive. It may be mixed with other motives. In this context, when the agreement is to do an unlawful act, we do not get into the ‘quagmire of mixed motives’, as Lord Simon LC described them in the Crofters case at p 445. It is sufficient if the conspiracy is aimed or directed at the plaintiff, and it can reasonably be foreseen that it may injure him, and does in fact injure him. That is what Parker J thought. I agree with him.’
Fox LJ said: ‘I agree with the judge, that where persons combine to do an unlawful act with the intention of injuring another person there is every reason why that person should have a cause of action if he suffers damage. The position is otherwise if, there being no cause of action in respect of the act if done by an individual, there was no intent by the combiners to injure the complainant. To give such a cause of action gives undue weight to the mere fact of the combination. An intention to injure is, it seems to me, a necessary element in the tort.’
Eveleigh LJ said: ‘The tort of conspiracy as the law has developed today, consists of the agreement of two or more persons to act in combination in order to injure the plaintiff without justification, and where in pursuance of that object something is done whereby the plaintiff suffers damage. Justification may be found in self-protection or in the advancement of the personal interests of the defendants where such is the predominant object of the combination. However, justification cannot be established where the defendants agree to resort to an unlawful act.’

Lord Denning MR, Eveleigh LJ, Fox LJ
51/1981, [1981] Com LR 74, Times 07-Mar-1981
England and Wales
CitedCrofter Hand Woven Harris Tweed Company Limited v Veitch HL 15-Dec-1941
The plaintiffs sought an interdict against the respondents, a dockers’ union, who sought to impose an embargo on their tweeds as they passed through the port of Stornoway.
Held: A trade embargo was not tortious because the predominant purpose . .

Cited by:
Appeal fromLonrho Ltd v Shell Petroleum Co Ltd (No 2) HL 1-Apr-1981
No General Liability in Tort for Wrongful Acts
The plaintiff had previously constructed an oil supply pipeline from Beira to Mozambique. After Rhodesia declared unilateral independence, it became a criminal offence to supply to Rhodesia without a licence. The plaintiff ceased supply as required, . .
CitedIS Innovative Software Ltd v Howes CA 19-Feb-2004
It was alleged that the defendant had backdated contracts of employment to a time when he had been employed by the claimant, and had induced staff to leave. The company appealed dismissal of its claim.
Held: The advantage of the court . .
CitedIS Innovative Software Ltd v Howes CA 19-Feb-2004
It was alleged that the defendant had backdated contracts of employment to a time when he had been employed by the claimant, and had induced staff to leave. The company appealed dismissal of its claim.
Held: The advantage of the court . .
CitedDouglas and others v Hello! Ltd and others (No 3) CA 18-May-2005
The principal claimants sold the rights to take photographs of their wedding to a co-claimant magazine (OK). Persons acting on behalf of the defendants took unauthorised photographs which the defendants published. The claimants had retained joint . .
CitedTotal Network Sl v Revenue and Customs HL 12-Mar-2008
The House was asked whether an action for unlawful means conspiracy was available against a participant in a missing trader intra-community, or carousel, fraud. The company appealed a finding of liability saying that the VAT Act and Regulations . .
CitedDigicel (St Lucia) Ltd and Others v Cable and Wireless Plc and Others ChD 15-Apr-2010
The claimants alleged breaches of legislation by members of the group of companies named as defendants giving rise to claims in conspiracy to injure by unlawful means. In effect they had been denied the opportunity to make interconnections with . .

Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.

Torts – Other, Contract

Leading Case

Updated: 10 November 2021; Ref: scu.194569