• In the case of Ingram v Little [1961] 1 Q.B. 31, it was held that where a mistake regarding the identity of a party to a contract (including false identities) where identity is of vital importance, the contract is void. Possessory title of goods sold through that contract does not transfer to the rogue or subsequent buyers.

Facts of the Case

  • C advertised their car for sale. On 3rd August 1957, C received an interested call from a man who introduced himself as Mr Hutchinson.
  • Hutchinson called at C’s house and offered C a cheque for £717. C was only willing to accept cash. Hutchinson tried to convince C that he was ‘a most reputable person,’ giving his initials and address.
  • C went to the post office and found Hutchinson’s details aligned with the telephone directory. With that knowledge, C chose to accept the cheque.
  • The cheque was dishonoured the next day. Hutchinson was actually a rogue without the funds to fulfil the trade.
  • On 6th August, the rogue sold C’s car to D, a motor dealer. D in turn sold the car to another dealer.
  • C sued D for the return of the car or, alternatively, damages for its conversion. C argued that there never was a contract between them and the rogue Hutchinson, and so the title of the car had never passed from D.
  • D argued that the rogue Hutchinson had a voidable title in the car because of the contract for sale. Therefore, that title had passed to D.


  • Did possessory title pass from C to the rogue to D, regardless of the rogue presenting himself under a false identity?

Held by the Court of Appeal

  • Finding for C, that since only C only intended to deal with the real Hutchinson, the rogue was incapable of accepting the offer to sell the car. Possessory title of the car had never been transferred from C. The contract was void.

Pearce L.J.

  • King’s Norton Metal v Edridge established that the mere fact that the offeror is dealing with a person bearing an alias does not prevent the formation of a contract. However, where a cheat passes himself off as another identity, the situation is different because there may be no intention to deal with the rogue.
  • This case raises difficulties because it was an oral contract. The offer is apparently addressed to the physical person present, They, by whatever name they are called, is the person to whom the offer is made. His physical presence identified by sight and hearing ‘preponderates over vagaries of nomenclature.’
  • “Yet clearly, though difficult, it is not impossible to rebut the prima facie presumption that the offer can be accepted by the person to whom it is physically addressed. If a man orally commissions a portrait from some unknown artist who had deliberately passed himself off, whether by disguise or merely by verbal cosmetics, as a famous painter, the impostor could not accept the offer. For though the offer is made to him physically, it is obviously, as he knows, addressed to the famous painter. The mistake in identity on such facts is clear and the nature of the contract makes it obvious that identity was of vital importance to the offeror. At the other end of the scale, if a shopkeeper sells goods in a normal cash transaction to a man who misrepresents himself as being some well-known figure, the transaction will normally be valid” [57].
  • C demonstrated that they were not willing to accept a cheque until they had a record of the identity. The individuality of the real Hutchinson was of vital importance to the trade. The question is whether that makes the contract void or merely voidable.
  • It has been argued that this contract should only be void if the rogue pretended to be someone famous or known to C by reputation. This is not accepted. Even if C needed to look up the real Hutchinson, that individual’s apparent standing and stability was the reason for the sale.
  • The court is reluctant to accdpt that there has been a mistake in such cases as this since it creates hardship on subsequent purchasers. However, in this case D was no more careful than C. The reality is a rogue can accomplish such fraud partially because registration and legal ownership are so loosely connected.

Editor’s Note

  • The precedent in this case has not been followed. The Law Reform Committee Report on the ‘Transfer of Title to Chattels’ recommended that a contract is voidable rather than void where there is a mistake regarding the identity of one party.