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Theft and robbery


Theft and robbery

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									Chapter 10 Theft and robbery


Theft and robbery
 Theft: definition and actus reus of the offence
Theft is one of the most commonly understood crimes. Everybody recognises stealing as theft and would include shoplifting as one of the examples of theft. However, there are other situations that may be theft even the crime is not always obviously committed. Compare the situation between finding a 10p piece on the pavement, a £20 note and a diamond ring. When, and in what situations would you consider each finding to be theft? Or are none of them theft? Is it theft to keep additional goods sent to you by mistake by a supplier? Can you steal your own property?

 Where property or a right or interest in property is or purports to

be transferred for value to a person acting in good faith, no later assumption by him of rights which he believed himself to be acquiring shall, by reason of any defect in the transferor’s title, amount to theft of the property.

In this topic you will learn how to:
 state the definition of theft  explain the actus reus of theft  explain cases that illustrate

There are therefore, a number of aspects of appropriation that need to be investigated. The general meaning of appropriation is to take something. More formally, this is the assumption of the rights of an owner. This does not, however, reflect the true meaning of appropriation in the context of theft. Theft can involve more than the mere taking of property; it can include taking the rights that someone has over that property. The Act makes this clear when it refers in s3(2) to right or interest in property. A person who owns property can do anything he likes with it (subject to the general law). For example, he can lend it to someone else, hire it someone else, damage or destroy it. When a person has lent or hired something to someone, they retain the right of ownership. That right can therefore be the subject of theft by the person to whom the thing was lent. Appropriation can, therefore, occur in a variety of ways while doing something to the property that an owner can do, such as possess it, use it, modify it, sell it or destroy it. This has resulted in a number of cases. The case that confirms that a range of activities can amount to appropriation is Morris (1984). In that case, the defendant dishonestly switched the labels on goods in a supermarket so as to show lower prices. He then acquired the goods by paying only the lower price at the checkout – this was his intention. The switching of the labels and placing the goods in the basket or trolley forms the appropriation. Clearly there has been no criminal appropriation where the property has been taken with consent. There is appropriation when I put goods in my supermarket basket, but as I intend to pay for them at the checkout, this is appropriation with consent, and is not criminal. It becomes part of the crime when I decide to leave without paying for the goods. The supermarket consents to my taking the goods off the shelf. The link between the elements of appropriation and dishonesty is very close and often form the key aspects of the crime. This idea of consent by the owner becomes a point of difficulty in some cases.

the actus reus of theft
 apply the rules to a given


The definition of theft
Theft appears to be a straight forward offence. The law on theft clearly embraces a number of ideas, but is sometimes not as straight forward as simple theft appears to be. Theft is defined in the Theft Act 1968 s1:

1 A person is guilty of theft if he dishonestly appropriates property

belonging to another with the intention of permanently depriving the other of it; and ‘thief ’ and ‘steal’ shall be construed accordingly. gain, or is made for the thief ’s own benefit.


 It is immaterial whether the appropriation is made with a view to  The five following sections of this Act shall have effect as regards the
interpretation and operation of this section (and, except as otherwise provided by this Act, shall apply only for purposes of this section). There are five things to be proved to secure a conviction of theft: three of these form the actus reus of the offence and two the mens rea. They are summarised in Figure. 1 below.

Belonging to another Dishonesty



Key cases

Morris (1984): appropriation of goods includes a variety of activities including switching labels on goods in a supermarket.

Lawrence (197): appropriation can take place even where the property has been handed over with the consent of the owner. There is often a link between the appropriation and the fact that it is done dishonestly. Gomez (199): the issue of consent occurred here in relation to releasing goods against worthless cheques. It was decided that there can be an appropriation even if the goods are released with the owner’s consent.

Examiner’s tip
There is often an overlap between theft and fraud in these situations as a case such as Morris can be considered to include a false representation as to the price to be paid for the goods under s2 of the Fraud Act 2006. You should look out for this overlap and discuss it in your answers.

Actus Reus

Mens Rea Intention to permanently deprive the other of it


Fig. 1 Elements of the offence of theft

Actus reus – element 1: appropriation
Appropriation is defined in s3 of the Theft Act 1968 as:

1 Any assumption by a person of the rights of an owner amounts to an

The first case involving the issue of consent is Lawrence (1972). In that case Lawrence was a taxi driver. A foreign student got in his taxi and asked to be taken to a hotel. The real fare was quite small. The student had little spoken English and offered a bank note to pay for the trip. Lawrence said that it was not enough. The student then offered Lawrence his wallet, and indicated he should take the right amount. Lawrence took money out of the wallet, but about 20 times as much as the fare justified. Lawrence’s defence was that he had not appropriated any money, within the terms of the Act. He claimed that although he may have been dishonest, there was no appropriation. However, Lawrence was guilty of theft, as the court decided that the appropriation need not be without the consent of the owner. This is clearly consistent with other cases and a sensible approach, even though there are alternative offences available under the Fraud Act 2006 and its predecessor legislation. Another case on this point is Gomez (1993). In that case the defendant was an assistant manager at an electrical store. His accomplice asked to be supplied with £16,000 worth of goods using two worthless cheques.

appropriation, and this includes, where he has come by the property (innocently or not) without stealing it, any later assumption of a right to it by keeping or dealing with it as owner.

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