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In depth guide to theft

As Used by the Open University

Legislation covered

Topics covered

  • Dishonesty
  • Appropriation
  • Property
  • Belonging to another
  • Intention to permanently deprive 
  • Low value shop lifting

Knowledge test

Start by writing down the the first part of the theft act from the legislation – as much as you know of s.1 (definition) and s.2 (dishonesty). It is written below the next video so once you’ve watched the video you can check and see how much you knew correctly. 

Dishonesty video

Before we look at the theft legislation it is important to have a good understanding of how theft is viewed and the case law that underpins it. Watch this video before moving on.

Knowledge check

Return to the legislation you wrote out at the beginning of the lesson and see if you were correct.

Definition s.1

Dishonesty s.2

Theft video

The theft video is long so we have included timestamps to help you navigate through.

  • Dishonesty – 00:50
  • Appropriation – 04:02
  • Property – 08:46
  • Belonging to another – 16:44
  • Intention to permanently deprive – 22:21
  • Low value shop lifting – 25:46
  • Summary – 28:24

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Applying understanding

Next we will test your understanding of the legislation. Select True for each of the following that can be stolen.

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Quick review


A person is guilty of theft if he dishonestly appropriates property belonging to another with the intention of permanently depriving the other of it. 

All parts of the theft definition need to be fulfilled for the offence to be complete. 


A person is not dishonest if he appropriates the property in the belief that

  • (a) he has in law the right to deprive the other of it
  • (b) he would have the other’s consent if the other knew of the appropriation and the circumstances of it; or
  • (c) that the person to whom the property belongs cannot be discovered by taking reasonable steps.

And a person’s appropriation of property may not be dishonest if he is willing to pay for the property.


Appropriation occurs when someone assumes the right or rights of an owner, but appropriation itself is not theft. In order for there to be theft, the other elements of the offence (such asdishonesty) need to be present.

Appropriation envisages a physical act and property can be appropriated for the purposes of the theft act, even when the owner gives his consent or authority.

Appropriation can be a continuing event and the same property may be appropriated more than once, but once stolen, it cannot be stolen again by the same thief.Where property is transferred for value to a person acting in good faith it shall not amount to theft of the property.


“Property” includes money and all other property, real or personal, including things in action and other intangible property. So here we are talking about physical money (coins and notes), personal property such as laptops, furniture, cars etc, land, things in action such as the credit in a bank account or a patent and intangible property like software.

In terms of theft of land, trustees breach, strangers sever and tenants take fixtures and structures.

A person who picks any of the 4 Fs (fungi, flowers, fruit or foliage) from a plant growing wild on any land, does not steal what he picks, unless he “picks for profit”.

A person can steal a wild creature who is tamed or normally kept in captivity, or the carcass of any such creature, as well as anything that has been or is being reduced into possession and has not been lost or abandoned.

Certain things are not classed as property and therefore cannot be stolen such as confidential information, human bodies (unless they have been altered using human skill), and electricity.

Belonging to another

The legislation talks of “belonging to” not “owner of”. So if someone has possession or control of property then it can be stolen from them, regardless of whether they are an owner.

Where a person gets property by another’s mistake, and is under an obligation to restore it, an intention not to restore it shall be regarded as an intention to deprive that person of the property or proceeds.

Intention to permanently deprive

If a person treats property as his own to dispose of regardless of the other’s rights; or borrows or lends it for a period and in circumstances making it equivalent to an outright taking or disposal he is regarded as having the intention of permanently depriving the other of it. This is also the case where he parts with property under a condition as to its return which he may not be able to perform (e.g., pawning the property).

Low value shoplifting

“Low-value shoplifting” is an offence in circumstances where the value of the stolen goods does not exceed £200 and the value of the stolen goods is the price at which they were being offered for sale at the time of the offence. If the person steals multiple goods, then their prices are added together.

Any reference to low-value shoplifting includes aiding, abetting, counselling or procuring the commission of low-value shoplifting.

Low-value shoplifting is triable only summarily. But where a person accused of low-value shoplifting is aged 18 or over the court must give the person the opportunity of electing to be tried by the Crown Court for the offence.

What next?

Now study another topic. This will give you time to find out how much you have actually remembered, and which areas have been forgotten.

Suggested topics –

  • Criminal damage (specifically the definition of property)
  • Burglary
  • Aggravated burglary

Return to theft at a later date and write out the definition of theft (before reading anything else), then check them against the legislation above. Any areas of weakness need to be returned to after a further break. Remember to keep extending the gap between reviewing work. Spaced repetition is the key.

20 Questions

Now you have returned to theft after studying other topics, take the quiz to see how much information you have retained.

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