An amendment to the Theft Act 1968 in relation to appropriation, becomes central to the discussion when a single mother takes advantage of a vulnerable adult.

As a single parent, the appellant befriended an older man who while living alone, was of low intelligence and in need of daily care, and yet through the course of their relationship, the appellant manipulated the man into withdrawing small sums of money from his £60,000 inheritance, almost to the point of exhausting his funds, before walking away with his television set.

Having been caught and convicted of theft under section 1 of the 1968 Act, the appellant continued to claim that her actions were honest, inasmuch as he had agreed to give her the money, and had accompanied her to the building society in order to facilitate the withdrawals.

In addition to this, she claimed that those gifts were for the betterment of herself and her young son, and that the television set was simply another act of charity on his part.

With her contention dismissed by the Court of Appeal, it was left to the House of Lords to examine the precision of the Theft Act 1968 and those terms applicable to appropriation.

Prior to the drafting of the 1968 Act, it was expressed in section 1(1) of the Larceny Act 1916 that:

“A person steals who, without the consent of the owner, fraudulently and without a claim of right made in good faith, takes away and carries away anything capable of being stolen with intent, at the time of such taking, permanently to deprive the owner thereof.”

Larceny Act 1916

However, when examining the terms of the Theft Act 1968, section 1(1) instead reads:

“A person is guilty of theft if he dishonestly appropriates property belonging to another with the intention of permanently depriving the other of it; and ‘thief’ and ‘steal’ shall be construed accordingly.”

Theft Act 1968

This variance (or absence) of words was what the appellant relied upon when claiming that the monies given were gifts, and that despite any subjective opinion that her receipt of them constituted a criminal act, she was in fact innocent and therefore wrongly convicted.

When considering the finer points of theft and the decision by Parliament to broaden the effect of theft under the 1968 Act, it had already been agreed that in both R v Lawrence and R v Gomez, appropriation of property belonging to another under dishonest circumstances was still tantamount to theft, even where knowing consent had been provided.

In Lawrence, a taxi driver had overcharged a foreign student in the knowledge that the fare ought to have been less; at which point, the student duly paid, while In Gomez, a shop owner allowed payment for goods by cheque on the pretence that the cheques were valid, particularly after his conspiring employee confirmed their authenticity.

Those two cases were identical in context, inasmuch as the victims were misled into parting with property on the assumption that the transactions were honest; however, the appellant had induced her victim into believing that he had the funds to give away and that the cause of his donations was genuine as opposed to one of her simple greed.

This raised further questions around his ability to understand his decision making, and whether her appropriation under false pretences allowed her to circumnavigate the law and avoid penalty.

With a degree of division, it was finally decided that despite any argument that relinquishing property under conscious knowledge could not amount to theft, the dishonest intentions of the recipient were encompassed by section 1 of the Theft Act 1968, regardless of whether the donors believed the act to be lawful, while the House reminded the parties that:

“In practice the mental requirements of theft are an adequate protection against injustice.”


Theft without violence or fear of violence upon the victim cannot constitute robbery, as was demonstrated in this simple case of taking without a vendor’s consent in 1931.

Having entered the store of a Buckeye resident at the point of their opening it, the appellant took the opportunity to make off with a bag containing $33, while the shopkeeper was attending another task nearby; after which, he was later arrested and confessed to stealing the money.

Indicted in the Superior Court of Maricopa County, the appellant was then charged and convicted of robbery under § 4602 of the Arizona Revised Statutes, which read that:

“Robbery is the felonious taking of personal property in the possession of another, from his person or immediate presence and against his will, accomplished by means of force or fear. The fear may be either of an unlawful injury to the person or property of the person robbed, or of a relative or member of his family; or of an immediate and unlawful injury to the person or property of any one in the company of the person robbed at the time of the robbery.”

However, the appellant challenged the judgment in the Arizona Supreme Court on grounds that there was insufficient evidence to show beyond a reasonable doubt that he had subjected the vendor to any form of physical struggle, or that he had even uttered a single word to him during the act.

Whereupon, the court sought clarification on the definition of robbery and turned to the English case of R. v Thomas Gnosil, in which the Court of Assizes had held that:

“[T]he force used must be either before, or at the time of the taking, and must be of such a nature as to shew that it was intended to overpower the party robbed, and prevent his resisting, and not merely to get possession of the property stolen.”

R v Thomas Gnosil

And to State v. Parsons, where the Washington Supreme Court had also held that:

“[I]t is not robbery to merely snatch from the hand or person of another, or to surreptitiously take from another’s pocket, money or some other thing of value, as such taking lacks the element of force, or putting in fear, one or the other of which being essential to constitute the crime of burglary.”

State v. Parsons

While the court further noted that § 649a of Grigsby’s Criminal Law stated that:

“No sudden taking unawares from the person, even done with force, as by snatching a thing from one’s hand, or out of his pocket, is sufficient to constitute robbery.”

Therefore, the court held with considerable certainty that although the vendor had been cause distress as a result of his pecuniary loss, the appellant had on this occasion, been deft enough to avoid confrontation; hence, the court reversed the previous judgment and remanded the case back to the superior court, while holding that:

“The mere taking of property in possession of another, from his person or immediate presence and against his will, is not robbery. Such taking must be accomplished by force or fear to constitute robbery.”


When an alleged robbery resulted in threatening behaviour, the defendant argued that absence of evidence to support the initial act reduced the charge to one of theft under Indiana State law.

Having stolen five rolls of camera film from a Muncie supermarket, the defendant was seen taking the items by a single witness, who after the defendant had left the store, indirectly notified the store manager, who then confronted the defendant outside on the pavement.

In response to his challenge, the defendant brandished a knife and threatened the manager, after which the manager stood down and retreated back inside the shop, only for the State police to arrest the defendant when he somewhat naively returned to the scene of the crime.

Convicted of robbery before a Delaware Circuit Court jury, the Court of Appeals of Indiana Second District reversed the judgment, on grounds that § 35-42-5-1 of the Indiana Code defines robbery as present when:

“A person who knowingly or intentionally takes property from another person or from the presence of another person:

(1) By using or threatening the use of force on any person; or

(2) By putting any person in fear….”

And that in Eckelberry v. State, the Indiana Supreme Court had previously held that:

“The force necessary to constitute robbery must be employed before the property is stolen. If the stealing be first, and the force afterwards, the offense is not robbery, but stealing from the person.”

Eckelberry v. State

After which, the case was heard again before the Indiana Supreme Court, who reviewed their position with regard to the defendant leaving the property after the threatening behaviour, further noting that in Paul v. State the court had ruled a store clerk as solely responsible for the contents stolen; and so, a conviction of robbery could lawfully stand.

It also noted that in Eckelberry, the court had concluded that when the defendant injured their victim immediately after taking their property, the two events were merely equal parts of the same act; therefore, the court reversed the appeal court decision and upheld the robbery charge in full.

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