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Theft general

Date Updated: January 2012

Title: Theft

Offence: Theft - General

Legislation: S1 Theft Act 1968

Mode of Trial: Either way

Statutory Limitations & Maximum Penalty: 7 years

Aggravating & Mitigating Factors

Organised crime.
Professional hallmarks.
Sophisticated offence.
Targetting the vulnerable

Factors indicating higher culpability:

  • Planning an offence;
  • Offenders operating in groups or gangs;
  • Deliberate targeting of vulnerable victims.

Factors indicating a more than usually serious degree of harm:

  • Victim is particularly vulnerable;
  • High level of gain from the offence;
  • High value (including sentimental value) of property to victim or substantial consequential loss.

Personal mitigation:

  • Return of property;
  • Impact on sentence of offender's dependency - dependency does not mitigate seriousness of offence but may properly influence type of sentence imposed;
  • Offender motivated by desperation or need ( in exceptional circumstances).

Relevant Sentencing Guidelines

Sentencing Guidelines  Council - Definitive Guideline for Theft and Burglary in a building other than a dwelling. Offences sentenced after 5th January 2009.

Definitive guidelines cover theft in breach of trust, theft in dwelling, theft from a person, theft from a shop and burglary of non-dwelling.  See relevant parts of Sentencing Manual.

Parts B and C (assessing seriousness and ancillary orders) of assistance when sentencing other forms of theft. 

Relevant Sentencing Case Law (pre Sentencing Guidelines Council)


R v Sutcliffe [1995] 16 Cr.App.R.(S.) 69 B6-13I06
Convicted of theft. The defendant was concerned with others in stealing a lorry and trailer with a load of cigarettes worth £683,000. "Premier league crime merits premier league punishment". 4 years.

R v Chee Kew Ong [2001] 1 Cr.App.R.(S.) 404
The defendant pleaded guilty to causing a public nuisance. The defendant was part of a betting syndicate. He paid £20K to a security guard to allow him access to a football ground and cut the electricity to the spotlights causing the match to be abandoned. Good character. 4 years.

Vulnerable victims:

R v Flynn and Flynn [1993] 14 Cr.App.R.(S.) 422 B6-13I01
The defendants removed furniture from the home of an elderly couple and installed inferior furniture which they were to buy for a large sum. The original furniture was recovered. The victims were intimidated but not specifically targeted. 6 and 8 months.

R v Goatley [2006] 1 Cr.App.R.(S.) B6-13I13
Pleaded guilty to three counts of theft The defendant swapped a picture belonging to a 94 year old man for a cheap imitation and tricked two other men into allowing him to take two chairs (£7K) and a desk (£12K). Cynically took advantage of elderly people. 3 and a half years.

Telephone boxes:

R v COSTELLO [1994] 15 Cr.App.R.(S.) 240
Convicted of attempted theft. The defendant was seen by police officers assisting a man who was attempting to break into the cash compartment of a public telephone box. "Those who vandalise public telephones, unless there are quite exceptional circumstances, must expect a custodial sentence.  The vandalizing of public telephone kiosks is a blight in our society. At best, it can cause irritation and inconvenience to members of the public; at worst, it can cause misery and despair and even great human tragedy, should an emergency call become necessary". 6 months.

R v ARSLAN [1994] 15 Cr.App.R.(S.) 90
Pleaded guilty to theft. The appellant drilled through the back of the cash box of a public telephone box in the early hours of the morning and stole £82 in coins. This was not the case of an isolated telephone being attacked but preplanned and involved a degree of specialist knowledge. 4 months.

R v FERRY AND WYNN [1997] 2 Cr.App.R.(S.) 42
Pleaded guilty to going equipped for theft, and in one case to theft. The appellants were found in a car near a telephone box which had been damaged. They were in possession of a cordless drill and other tools, and a map indicating the location of other telephone boxes. Sophisticated offence. 12 months and 18 months.

R v RICHARDSON [2000] 2 Cr.App.R.(S.) 373
Pleaded guilty to false imprisonment and theft. The defendant went to the home of a lady aged 89 with whom he was acquainted at night to use the lavatory , pushed the lady into a chair and demanded money. The defendant eventually left the house, taking £20 from her purse and pulling the telephone lead from wall. The defendant surrendered himself and admitted the offence. 4 years.

R v ALLRIGHT [1993] 14 Cr.App.R.(S.) 797
Pleaded guilty to two charges of theft. The defendant went into an office, ostensibly to use the toilet, and stole a lady's handbag on his way out; he was challenged and arrested shortly afterwards. Whilst on bail he stole a car stereo. Persistent thief but not past the custodial threshold.

Car ringing:

R v BRADSHAW [1992] 13 Cr.App.R.(S.) 393
Pleaded guilty to conspiracy to steal. The defendant was a party to a conspiracy in the course of which 21 high value cars (value £250,000) were stolen, and either broken down into parts for resale, or altered in appearance. Highly sophisticated and well-organized dishonest business. 4 and a half years.

R v VOKES AND OTHERS [1996] 1 Cr.App.R.(S.) 94
Four defendants were convicted of conspiracy to steal cars; one of the defendants was convicted also of conspiracy to obtain by deception and conspiracy to handle stolen property, and another was convicted also of conspiracy to handle stolen property. A fifth defendant was convicted of conspiracy to obtain by deception. The appellants were involved in "ringing" cars -- stealing cars, changing their identities and selling them. About 30 cars were involved with a total value of about £400,000. 7 years, 5 years 5 years and 4 and a half years.

R v EVANS [1996] 1 Cr.App.R.(S.) 105
Pleaded guilty to two counts of theft, one of obtaining by deception and two of handling stolen goods. The defendant and his accomplices responded to newspapers advertisements for cars which were for sale, obtained details of the car which allowed them to obtain a duplicate key, and then stole the car. The car would then be sold with false documents. The counts to which the appellant pleaded guilty involved three cars with a total value of £19,500. Sophisticated criminal exercise. 27 months. Tariff for the ringleader on a fight 4 -5 years. Lieutenant on a fight 3 years.

R v DENNARD AND DRAPER [2000] 1 Cr.App.R.(S.) 232
The first defendant was convicted of conspiracy to steal, and the second defendant pleaded guilty to six counts of handling stolen goods and one of obtaining property by deception. The defendants were involved in "ringing" stolen cars. 33 vehicles were stolen and their identities were applied to other vehicles. Not the worst. 5 years.

Baggage Handlers:

R v DHUNAY AND OTHERS [1986] 8 Cr.App.R.(S.) 107
The defendants pleaded guilty to specimen charges of theft. They were all baggage handlers at Heathrow Airport, and had been detected stealing from the luggage passing through one of the airport terminals. 3 - 4 years.

Theft by Post Office Employees:

R v POULTER [1985] 7 Cr.App.R.(S.) 260
pleaded guilty to five counts of theft and asked for 26 other offences to be considered. The defendant was a postman who opened letters likely to contain small sums of and on one occasion stole a parcel containing a bathroom cabinet. The total amount stolen was about £100. Such offences cause considerable distress to the public who place their trust in postmen and the consequent damage which is then done to public confidence and the Post Office. 1 year.

R v TRAILLE [1989] 11 Cr.App.R.(S.) 229
Pleaded guilty to six counts of theft and one of obtaining by deception, and asked for 12 further offences to be taken into consideration. The defendant was employed as a postwoman, and stole letters sent by banks containing personal identification numbers and in some cases the cash cards to which they related. On the last day of her employment she stole 32 postal packets. 1 year.

R v REID [1992] 13 Cr.App.R.(S.) 645
Pleaded guilty to seven counts of theft and asked for a further 12 offences to be taken into consideration. The defendant was a postman; he stole a number of registered letters and packets with an estimated value of £ 40,000. The offences were committed over a period of 18 months. 2 years


R v STANLEY [1980] 2 Cr.App.R.(S.) 296
The defendant pleaded guilty to offences of burglary and theft, and asked for 16 other offences to be taken into consideration. He had been concerned on several occasions with stealing calves, heifers, and other livestock from farms and selling them. Cattle rustling is something which cannot be allowed to go on in this country, and those who indulge in it must expect heavy punishment, such punishment as will we hope deter others from committing like offences. 5 years.

Ancillary Orders: 

  • Restitution
  • Compensation
  • POCA

Consider Also: 

  • Disqualification from being a director.

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