• In the case of Halsey v Esso Petroleum [1961] 2 All E.R. 145, it was held that a claimant can recover when their chattel is damaged by the escape of harmful substances from a defendant’s property, even if the chattel was not standing on land owned by the claimant.

Facts of the Case

  • C owned and occupied a small terrace house on a residential street.
  • D owned and occupied an oil storage and issuing depôt adjoining the street.
  • In the depôt was a boiler house containing boilers which rarely but consistently emitted noxious acid smuts. These damaged C’s washing and the paintwork of C’s car.
  • An occasional oil smell had been present for many years, but recently the depôt emitted a particularly pungent, nauseating smell in increasing intensity and frequency.
  • In 1956, D introduced a night shift. Since then, the boiler noise carried throughout the night despite efforts to minimise it.
  • This noise, which varied in intensity, at peak caused C’s windows and doors to vibrate, preventing C from sleeping. Furthermore, from November 1956, oil tankers came and went every night.
  • It was possible for D to conduct their operations without any (appreciable) smell, and there was no nuisance by noise by day.


  • Could the acid smuts be shown to the cause of damages done to C’s property?
  • Was the oil odour a nuisance by smell despite no injury to health resulting from it?
  • Was D’s use of the highway in the course of their business constitute a nuisance?

Held by the Queen’s Bench Division

  • Finding for C, that D were liable in nuisance for damage done by acid smuts emitted from their chimneys, in respect of which C suffered special damage.
  • Injury to health was not required for a nuisance by smell action. Since the pungent smell from time to time emitted went far beyond a triviality and was more than would affect a sensitive person, it was, in view of its frequency, actionable.
  • D were liable for vehicular noise at night as a public nuisance. The concentration of noisy vehicles outside C’s house was an unreasonable use of the highway for which, in the circumstances (in particular that a man was entitled to sleep during the night in his own house) C was entitled to damages and injunctions.

Veale J.

  • Liability for nuisance by harmful deposits is established by linking poverty damage to the deposits. Neither negligence nor the neighbourhood’s character need be considered.
  • In contrast, nuisance by smell or noise has no absolute standard. Whether the interference with comfort/convenience is serious enough to constitute a nuisance is always a question of degree. In these cases, the neighbourhood’s character must be considered.
  • “It is said by D that since the public highway is for the use of everyone, C cannot complain if all D does is to make use of their right to use the public highway. I agree if that is all that D has done. If a person makes an unreasonable use of the public highway, for instance, by parking stationary vehicles on it, a member of the public who suffers special damage has a cause of action against him for public nuisance. Similarly, in my view, if a person makes an unreasonable use of the public highway by concentrating in one small area of the highway vehicles in motion and a member of the public suffers special damage, he is equally entitled to complain, although in most cases concentration of moving as opposed to stationary vehicles will be more likely to be reasonable. This is a question of reasonable user” [699].
  • In the present case, the offending noise is an interference with the enjoyment by C of his house. D concentrate at their premises a number of particularly heavy and noisy vehicles. Applying the principles of nuisance involving consideration of all relevant circumstances, D is guilty of nuisance, but only during the night shift.
  • No proper comparison can be made with noisy undertakings like railways, which are carried on under statutory authority, nor can this residential street properly be compared with the Great North Road.