Key offences: Theft Act

Theft is defined under section 1 of the Theft Act of 1968. The basic definition of theft is the dishonest appropriation of property belonging to another with an intention to permanently deprive them of that property.

Appropriation is any assumption of the rights of an owner. This is interpreted very widely.

Property is defined in section 4 of the Theft Act of 1968 as: ‘money and all other property, real or personal, including things in action and other tangible property’.

Pproperty will be considered as ‘belonging to another’ where any person has possession, control or any proprietary interest in the property in question. If property has been genuinely abandoned then it will not belong to anyone and so this element of the offence will not be made out.

The mens rea is a dishonest intention to permanently deprive someone of property. So the offence will not be made out where someone intends to give something back, or intends to pay for something if it is for sale.

The Theft Act provides no working definition of the term ‘dishonesty’ but does give a list of circumstances which will not amount to dishonesty under section 2. This states that dishonesty will not be present where he has a right in law to the property (s2 (1) (a); where the owner would have consented had they known the circumstances (s2 (1) (b); where the owner cannot be discovered by taking reasonable steps (s2 (1) (c); but a person may be dishonest even though they were willing to pay for the property (s (2) (2).

George is accused of theft. He picked up a pair of pliers which were on sale in a garden centre. He carried them around with him as he shopped for other items. The security guard has prepared a witness statement saying that he saw George put the pliers under his top. George then walked around the garden centre looking at other items. George then headed for the exit of the shop. The security guard says he waited until George was outside of the garden centre before apprehending him. Which two of the following are incorrect:

  1. There is prima facie evidence of George’s intention to permanently deprive the garden centre of the pliers.
  2. There is no evidence of dishonesty because George picked up the pliers while shopping for other items.
  3. There is evidence of dishonesty because George put the pliers under his top.
  4. There is no evidence that anything has been appropriated because George was stopped before he left the garden centre car park.

Robbery under section 8 of the Theft Act 1968 is a theft using the threat of force. Section 8 says (1)A person is guilty of robbery if he steals, and immediately before or at the time of doing so, and in order to do so, he uses force on any person or puts or seeks to put any person in fear of being then and there subjected to force.

Tony is accused of robbery. He approached two elderly women. He shouted at them saying he would ‘batter them’ unless they handed over their handbags. The women passed them their handbags and Tony ran away with them. Which of the following is true:

  1. Tony did not use force in his theft therefore there is no evidence of robbery.
  2. Tony saying, he would ‘batter them’ is not a sufficiently immediate threat to justify an allegation of robbery. Aggravated theft would be a more appropriate allegation.
  3. Tony is appropriately accused of robbery because he put the women in fear of being subjected to force.
  4. Tony ran away before the threat of force had any effect. He is therefore not guilty of robbery.

Burglary under section 9 of the Theft act is the entering of a building as a trespasser with the intent to commit any of the offences listed in section 9 subsection (2). A person is guilty if (a)he enters any building or part of a building as a trespasser and with intent to commit any such offence as is mentioned in subsection (2) below; or (b)having entered any building or part of a building as a trespasser he steals or attempts to steal anything in the building or that part of it or inflicts or attempts to inflict on any person therein any grievous bodily harm. (2)The offences referred to in subsection (1)(a) above are offences of stealing anything in the building or part of a building in question, of inflicting on any person therein any grievous bodily harm  therein, and of doing unlawful damage to the building or anything therein.

Aggravated burglary under section 10 is where a person commits any burglary and at the time has with him any firearm or imitation firearm, any weapon of offence, or any explosive; and for this purpose.

Rita is accused of burglary. She entered a scrap yard that is owned by Useful Scrap Limited.  While inside the scrap yard, she picked up a hub cap from the ground. She climbed back over the fence. She walked away from the scrap yard and was found with the hubcap 30 feet away. Useful Scrap Limited use scrap metal to make reclaimed furniture. Which of the following is correct:

  1. Rita is not guilty of burglary. The scrap yard is not ‘part of a building’ and so she has not committed any trespass in entering.
  2. Rita is guilty of burglary. She has committed a theft having entered the scrapyard as a trespasser.
  3. Rita is not guilty of burglary. The hub cap could not be considered property and there is no evidence of Rita’s dishonesty.
  4. Rita is guilty of burglary. The issue for the jury will be whether or not the scrap yard was ‘part of a building’ for the purpose of the Act.