• In the case of Read v J Lyons & Co [1947] A.C. 156, it was held that a person is not, in absence of negligence, liable in respect of things, whether dangerous or not, which they have brought, collected, or manufactured on their premises (barring certain specific exceptions).

Facts of the Case

  • In 1942, D entered into an agreement with the Ministry of Defence to manufacture high explosive shells for the government.
  • To fulfil this agreement, D took control, management and operations of a government factory in Bedfordshire.
  • C, an agent registered under the National Services Act, was told at the Labour Exchange that she must work as an inspector for the Armaments Inspection Department and inspect the filling of the shell cases.
  • C was not given a statutory direction mandating her to act in this way, but it would have been served on her if she refused.
  • On 31st August, an explosion occurred in the shell-filling shop. This injured C among others and resulted in one death.
  • Despite there being no evidence of D being negligent in their operations, C sued D for damages for personal injury.


  • Was D strictly liable for injuries resulting from their business of manufacturing clearly dangerous things?

Held by the House of Lords

  • Finding for D, that without any proof of negligence on behalf of D or the shells escaping from a place D occupies controls, there was no cause of action on which C could succeed. The inherently dangerous nature of the shells did not impose strict liability on D.

Viscount Simon

  • C was present in the factory pursuing a public duty, placing her in the same position as an invitee. D had the same responsibility to an invitee as an occupier. An occupier’s duties to an invitee have been analysed in many reported cases, but none of them suggest strict liability is one of them.
  • That the work involved is a kind requiring special care imposes a high standard for the duty of care, but there is no reason for saying that the occupier is liable for resulting damage without any proof of negligence.
  • Rylands v Fletcher does not apply in this case. There has been no escape from premises where D has complete control to one where D does not. Given that D was working for the Ministry of Defence in a time of war, it is also not correct to say that the manufacture of explosive shells is not a natural use of the land.

Lord Macmillan

  • “Every activity in which man engages is fraught with some possible element of danger to others. Experience shows that even from acts apparently innocuous injury to others may result. The more dangerous the act the greater is the care that must be taken…It would be impracticable to frame a legal classification of things as things dangerous and things not dangerous, attaching absolute liability in the case of the former but not in the case of the latter. In a progressive world, things which at one time were reckoned highly dangerous come to be regarded as reasonably safe. The first experimental flights of aviators were certainly dangerous, but we are now assured that travel by air is little if at all more dangerous than a railway journey. Accordingly, I am unable to accept the proposition that the manufacture of high-explosive shells is a dangerous operation which imposes on the manufacturer an absolute liability for any personal injuries which may be sustained in consequence of his operations” [172].
  • It has been suggested that some operations are so intrinsically dangerous that no degree of care can prevent accidents occurring, and that those who perform such operations should do so at their peril. This would impose strict liability on many industries. It is for Parliament to decide whether this standard is reasonable, but it is not the current law.