Tuesday, 25 August 2009

In what way is this not theft?

Met police officers are doing their it to prevent thieves from nicking stuff from cars. They're getting in first, to make sure there's nothing left to nick. Drivers who leave the car unlocked will get a terse note telling them off and explaining that anything nickable has been taken to the local cop shop.

OK, leaving your car unlocked is a bit daft. But if I were to do that, it is my problem; the risk that my stuff will not be there when I get back is one that I have to bear. I don't need plod walking around trying to increase that risk.

Now, I'm sure that if someone sues then plod will claim it is not theft because the definition of theft is:

A person shall be guilty of theft if he dishonestly appropriates property belonging to another with the intention of permanently depriving the other of it.
and they did not act dishonestly, nor did they intend to deprive the owner of the property permanently. Which raises two immediate questions:

  1. Will this defence work for me, if I take some stuff from the next (usually unlocked) plod car that I see, provided I leave a note with my email address to let them contact me?
  2. What about the civil tort of conversion?


  1. I agree that this is the wrong approach by the police, as with the burglary teams who were going around walking through people's unlocked doors and scaring the living daylights out of them.

    However, wouldn't the police argue that they were appropriating the property for safe keeping rather than for their own use?

  2. If they really wanted to catch people who steal from cars, then wouldn't they just wait - out of sight - until something was stolen, then arrest that person?

    Or is there no tickbox for that?

  3. I'm sure they would, Blue, but that is no defence for us, and no defence to conversion.

    Julia, that couldn't work. It would mean spending hours catching one criminal, rather than minutes harrassing many innocent middle-class citizens. And we can't have that!

  4. As far as I understand it, conversion only exists when you use the property. Holding it on someone else's behalf is not conversion.

  5. Is there a clever way the police can check whether a car is locked, or are they spending huge amounts of time wondering around checking endless car door handles?

  6. Why can't they just catch the criminals?

    As for me, I'm going to park my car unlocked in a church carpark with cream cakes displayed on the passenger seat. What do you think? Eclairs, meringues, blancmange or religeuse? I hope this is ethical.

  7. I think they like donuts, best.

    I'm thinking of turning up at the local constbulary to ask for my satnav back. Should be a laugh when they can't find it and claim that they never took it in the first place...

  8. Difficult to prove damage with donuts tho. There again, they have to be eaten quick in my experience.