Once upon a time, there was a hypothetical dad who released a hypothetical helium balloon into the sky. Hypothetical dad rang the hypothetical authorities, claiming his one of his hypothetical sons was onboard and floating away. The hypothetical boy was later found hiding in the hypothetical dad’s garage attic.

When later asked by a hypothetical news anchor in a hypothetical live interview why he didn’t come out of hiding when called, the hypothetical boy looked at his hypothetical parents, and said, “You guys said that … we did this for the show.”

Now, what would the hypothetical criminal liability of the father be, in England and Wales, if the evidence showed the hypothetical release of the hypothetical balloon and telephone call to the authorities was a ruse to gain publicity and celebrity rather than a genuine mistake?

Consider, s2 of the Fraud Act 2006 (Fraud by false representation)
A person is guilty of this offence if he;
(a) dishonestly makes a false representation, and
(b) intends, by making the representation;
(i) to make a gain for himself or another, or
(ii) to cause loss to another or to expose another to a risk of loss.

If, it were indeed discovered that the above was a hypothetical hoax, the case would turn on what the hypothetical father hoped to “gain”.

s5 of the Fraud Act 2006 (Gain and loss)
(a) extends only to gain or loss in money or other property;
(b) includes any such gain or loss whether temporary or permanent.

“Property” includes any property whether real or personal (including things in action and other intangible property).

If it were indeed proved that the entire matter was a hoax, our dad could hypothetically be on the hook under s2 Fraud Act as publicity and celebrity are arguably the equivalent of “goodwill” i.e. he hypothetically had the intent that the publicity generated would lead to a lucrative television “show”contract.

Now, getting evidence of hypothetical dad’s mens rea may be difficult – even with the poor hypothetical boy hypothetically throwing up every time he’s questioned about a hypothetical hoax – as the criminal standard of proof is, “beyond a reasonable doubt”.


The offences of “Wasting police time” and “Making hoax calls to the emergency services”  are not part of the usual LL.B. /GDL syllabus.