What Constitutes Theft in England and Wales?


Between 2018 to 2019, there were 2 million theft offences in England and Wales that were recorded by the police. It is common for the word’s ‘theft’, ‘robbery’ and ‘burglary’ to be used interchangeably on the internet and in the media. But in the legal world, all of these terms are different and have various meanings. Being caught for theft is not the same as committing a robbery. Let’s take a closer look at theft in England and Wales today, as well as the definition of robbery, burglary and aggravated burglary.

What is Theft?

Theft is known as a statutory offence in England and Wales. This means that the crime is set out and defined in legislation. Namely, theft is found in section 1(1) of the Theft Act 1968. This legislation states that somebody is guilty of theft if:

‘he dishonestly appropriates property belonging to another with the intention of permanently depriving the other of it’.

Breaking down this crime, ‘appropriates’ has the meaning of taking something. Property can constitution anything, such as real property, money and even intangible property. It can be anything that does not belong to you and instead belongs to somebody else. In addition, the person that has stolen something must have the intention of doing so.

If you are accused of theft, you will have to face trial in the Crown Court. If you are found guilty of the crime, you can be penalised with up to seven years in prison. You may also face an unlimited fine. If your case is before the Magistrates Court, you can be punished with an unlimited fine and up to six months imprisonment.

What is Robbery?

Robbery is a different criminal offence but it is still contained within section 8 of the Theft Act 1968. This section states that:

‘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’.

In essence, robbery is a type of aggravated theft. The difference is that force is used in other to steal something. This can be a threat of force and it must be immediately before or at the time of stealing.

The penalty for robbery is severe. If you are found guilty of committing a robbery, you can be sentenced to life imprisonment.

What is Burglary?

The definition of burglary is also contained within the Theft Act 1968 and in section 9. This is a separate offence and the definition is:

‘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’.

Someone can also be found guilty of burglary if they enter as a trespasser and commit criminal damage. Case law means that partial entry can be enough to amount to burglary. The penalties for burglary will depend on a variety of factors. If the case is not deemed serious, you can be sent to the magistrates’ court for sentencing. This can include up to six months imprisonment, as well as receiving a fine that is unlimited. If the case is deemed serious, it will be heard in the Crown Court and carry a larger penalty. This can include up to 14 years imprisonment.

What is Aggravated Burglary?

Aggravated burglary is more serious than burglary. It is outlined in section 10 of the Theft Act 1968. This states that:

‘a person is guilty of aggravated burglary if he commits any burglary and at the time has with him any firearm or imitation firearm, any weapon of offence, or any explosive’.

A firearm can include an airgun and air pistol. As the definition states, it is enough to be carrying an imitation firearm with you at the time of the offence. A weapon can be anything that can cause harm. For example, this could be a screwdriver. This should be on them and used at the time of the burglary. It does not matter whether the person intended to use the weapon or not. Just having it on them during the incident will be enough to be found guilty of aggravated burglary in court.

Aggravated burglary is viewed as a serious case, which carries severe penalties. This means that it will be heard in the Crown Court. If you are found guilty of this criminal offence in England or Wales, you can face life in prison for your actions. This can include a separate offence for carrying a firearm, as this is also against the law.