What are the details of the offence of handling stolen goods and will I face prosecution?
The offence of handling stolen goods is a criminal offence, meaning that if found guilty of the offence you will be prosecuted in a criminal court. The offence is established by the Theft Act 1968.
What is meant by the term stolen goods?
Definition of goods
Section 34 of the Theft Act 1968 states that the definition of goods includes money and every other description of property, excluding land. This does, however, include objects which have been severed from the land by stealing.
Definition of stolen goods
Stolen goods under Section 24 of the Theft Act 1968 is taken to mean any goods which have been stolen – contrary to Section 1 of the Theft Act – or obtained by deception – contrary to Section 15 of the Theft Act – or obtained by blackmail – contrary to Section 21 of the Theft Act.
What is the position in relation to goods stolen in a foreign country?
Goods which have been stolen in a foreign country, which includes goods stolen in Scotland or Northern Ireland, are stolen goods if they have been obtained or appropriated in such a way that would satisfy the above offences under the Theft Act and that the stealing was criminal under the law of the foreign country in question.
If goods stolen in this manner from a foreign country are then handled in England and Wales the offence of handling stolen goods under the Theft Act will have occurred.
Stolen at the time of handling
In order for the offence of handling stolen goods under the Theft Act to occur the goods must remain stolen at the time of handling.
Accordingly Section 24 of the Theft Act states that no good which have been stolen will be regarded as continuing to be stolen after one of the following events has occurred:
- Once they have been restored t the person from whom they were stolen
- Once they have been restored to another form of lawful custody or possession
- Once the person from whom they were stolen and any other person claiming through that person have otherwise ceased as regards those goods to have any right to restitution in respect of the theft
Proceeds of dealings with such goods
Under Section 24 of the Theft Act references to stolen goods also include the proceeds of dealings with such goods by the original thief or the handler.
What is meant by the term Handling?
Section 22 of the Theft Act provides a full definition of the term handling. This definition can be broken down as follows:
- Arranging to receive
- Undertaking the retention, removal, disposal or realisation of stolen goods for the benefit of another
- Assisting in the retention, removal, disposal or realisation of stolen goods for the benefit of another
- Arranging to undertake or assist in the retention, removal, disposal or realisation of stolen goods for the benefit of another
Otherwise in the Course of Stealing
Section 22 of the Theft Act states that the handling of the stolen goods must occur otherwise than in the course of stealing. This means that the thief or the joint thieves will not be guilty of the further offence of handling stolen goods during the act of stealing. Once the goods have been provided to another then that other will be guilty of handling stolen goods, not the thief or joint thief.
However, once the act of stealing has been committed the original thief can be guilty of handling stolen goods if he continues to handle the goods.
Must I have knowledge that the goods were stolen in order to be convicted of the offence?
In order to be guilty of the offence of handling stolen goods under the Theft Act you must either know that the goods are stolen or believe them to be stolen at the time of handling the goods.
Accordingly you will be seen to know that the goods were stolen if that was made aware to you when you were handling the goods, for example by the thief telling you.
You would be taken to believe that the goods were stolen if you could not say for certain that the goods were stolen but that there was no other reasonable conclusion in the light of all the circumstances.
Under Section 27 of the Theft Act the following evidence can be used to prove whether the accused knew or believed the goods to be stolen:
- Evidence that he has been involved in handling stolen goods over the last 12 months
- Evidence that he has been convicted of handling stolen goods over the last 12 months
Evidence such as this would not normally be admissible under the law of evidence.
In order for the offence of handling stolen goods to be proven it must be shown that the goods had been handles dishonestly, with the usual test of dishonesty in the criminal law being applied. For example if an individual had knowingly obtained stolen goods with the purpose of providing them back to the owner or providing them to the police then he would not be guilty of handling stolen goods as the handling had not been done in a dishonest manner.
Am I likely to face prosecution?
If you have been caught handling stolen goods under the Theft Act then you will be liable to a prison sentence of 6 months years and or a fine of up to £5,000.
If however, the case goes to the Crown Court there is the possibility of a greater sentence.