Ingram V Little

Citation: [1961] 1 QB 31, [1960] EWCA Civ 1

Coram: Pearce LJ and Devlin LJ

Facts: “About 2.15 p.m. the rogue Hutchinson called at the house where the two Misses Ingram and Miss Badger were living. He was, I think, actually admitted by Miss Hilda Ingram. Ha told her he was Hutchinson, and Miss Hilda Ingram accordingly introduced him to her sister Miss Elsie Ingram as Hutchinson. He looked at the car, and asked Miss Elsie Ingram to take him for a run in it, and she did so. During the run he was very talkative. He told Miss Elsie Ingram that he came from Surrey. He talked about his family, who he said were then in Cornwall, and he said that his home was at Caterham. At that time he had given no further information, nor, I believe, had he even given his initials; he was merely Mr. Hutchinson.

After the drive they came back to the house and discussed the sale of the car. As I have said, the asking price in the advertisement was £725 or near offer. Hutchinson offered Miss Elsie Ingram £700, and she refused. He then offered £717. Miss Ingram was prepared to accept £717 in cash, and I need hardly say that the price of anything which is sold is a price in cash unless anything else is said to the contrary. At that moment the rogue Hutchinson pulled out a cheque book and Miss Elsie Ingram immediately realised that he was proposing to pay the £717 by cheque. She told him that she would not in any circumstances accept a cheque, and that she was only willing to sell the car for cash. She told him that so far as she was concerned the proposed deal was finished. She said she was not prepared to accept a cheque. She had expected cash, and she made as though to walk out of the room.

The rogue Hutchinson started to talk and try to convince her that he was a most reputable person, and then for the first time he gave his initials. He said he was a Mr. P. G.M. Hutchinson. He said he had business interests in Guildford, and that he lived at Stanstead House, Stanstead Road, Caterham. At that moment Miss Hilda Ingram, who had been in the room, slipped out of the room and after a short time she returned.

I pause there for a moment to say what she had done while she was out of the room. She in fact went to the Parkstone Post Office, which was only about two minutes from their house, and she had looked in the main Directory covering the district of Caterham. In that Directory she saw the entry, ‘Hutchingaon, P.G.M., Stanstead House, Stanstead Road, Caterham 4665, and she believed that that was the man who at that moment was with her sister in their house. Miss Hilda Ingram returned to the house and to the room where Miss Elsie Ingram was still discussing the proposed sale, and Miss Hilda told Miss Alice that she had checked with the telephone directory at the Lower Parkstone Post Office, and that there was such a person as Mr. P.G.M. Hutchinson Caterham, living at that address, that is to say, Stanstead House, Stanstead Road. Having received that information she and Miss Hilda decided that they would let the rogue Hutchinson have the ear in exchange for the cheque. She said that she did so because they believed that he was the person he said he was.”

It was clearly proved that “Hutchinson” was not Mr. P.G.M. Hutchinson of Stanstead House, Stanstead Road, Caterham who had nothing whatever to do with the transaction in question and knew none of the parties connected with it. This gentleman banked with a branch of Lloyds Bank in London. It appears that the rogue “Hutchinson” opened an account on the 2nd August 195? at a branch of the Westminster Bank in Guildford with a deposit of £10, acquired a cheque book from which he drew cheques on this account to the extent of nearly R4000 including the cheque of the 3rd August for £717 made payable to the plaintiffs none of which cheques was honoured. Unlike the Mr. P.G.M. Hutchinson he purported to be, he was not a man of substance with an established address in Caterham.

Held: Applying the rule nemo debt quod non habet, the car remained the property of original owners. Phillips v Brooke differed in that property had passed before the misrepresentation (majority). Devlin LJ dissenting: ‘The true spirit of the common law is to override theoretical distinctions when they stand in the way of doing practical justice. For the doing of justice, the relevant question in this sort of case is not whether the contract was void or voidable, but which of two innocent parties shall suffer for the fraud of a third. The plain answer is that the loss should be divided between them in such proportion as is just in all the circumstances. If it be pure misfortune, the loss should be borne equally; of the fault or imprudence of either party has caused or contributed to the loss, it should be borne by that party in the whole or in the greater part.’