What is handling stolen goods?
Handling stolen goods is a criminal offence under s 22 of the Theft Act 1968 (TA 1968). This provides:
‘A person handles stolen goods if (otherwise than in the course of the stealing) knowing or believing them to be stolen goods he dishonestly receives the goods, or dishonestly undertakes or assists in their retention, removal, disposal or realisation by or for the benefit of another person, or if he arranges to do so.’
Under s 34 of TA 1968, goods are defined as money and every other description of property, excluding land. This does, however, include objects which have been severed from the land by stealing.
Stolen goods under s 24 of TA 1968 are any goods which have been stolen (contrary to s 1 of TA 1968); obtained by deception (contrary to s 15 of TA 1968); or obtained by blackmail (contrary to s 21 of TA 1968).
For the offence of handling stolen goods under TA 1968 to occur, the goods must remain stolen at the time of handling. Accordingly, s 24 of TA 1968 states that no goods which have been stolen will be regarded as continuing to be stolen once:
- they have been restored to the person from whom they were stolen;
- they have been restored to another form of lawful custody or possession;
- 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.
Under s 24 of TA 1968, references to stolen goods also include the proceeds of dealings with such goods by the original thief or the handler.
Goods stolen in a foreign country
Goods which have been stolen anywhere other than England and Wales, are stolen goods if they have been obtained or appropriated in such a way that would satisfy the above offences under TA 1968 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 TA 1968 will have occurred.
Section 22 of TA 1968 defines handling as:
- 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.
Under s 22 of TA 1968, the handling of the stolen goods must occur otherwise than in the course of stealing. This means the thief/thieves will not be guilty of the further offence of handling stolen goods during the act of stealing. Once the goods have been given to another, that other will be guilty of handling stolen goods – not the thief or joint thief.
However, once the theft has been committed, the original thief can be guilty of handling stolen goods if he continues to handle the goods.
To be guilty of the offence of handling stolen goods under TA 1968, you must either know the goods are stolen or believe them to be stolen at the time of handling the goods.
You will be taken 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.
If you could not say for certain that the goods were stolen but there was no other reasonable conclusion in the light of all the circumstances, it will also be assumed that you knew that the goods were stolen.
Under s 27 of TA 1968, the following evidence can be used to prove whether the accused knew or believed the goods to be stolen:
- evidence that they have been involved in handling stolen goods over the last 12 months;
- evidence that they have 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.
For the offence of handling stolen goods to be proven, it must be shown the goods had been handled dishonestly, with the usual test of dishonesty in the criminal law being applied. For example, if someone had knowingly obtained stolen goods with the purpose of providing them back to the owner or providing them to the police, they would not be guilty of handling stolen goods as the handling had not been done in a dishonest manner.
If you have been caught handling stolen goods under TA 1968, you will be liable to a maximum prison sentence of 14 years.
Advertising rewards for return of goods stolen or lost
If someone publicly offers a reward for the return of any goods ‘no questions asked’, or states that the person restoring the goods will be safe from apprehension or inquiry, or that any money paid for the purchase of the goods or advanced by way of loan on them will be repaid, the person advertising the reward and any person who prints or publishes the advertisement can face a fine of up to £1,000.