She could steal but she could not rob…

“Help! We’re being robbed! Or burgled? Or is this theft?” – where’s the difference?

“They broke into me house when I was out and they robbed me telly!” – This is a report that’ll be made to officers across the country on a daily basis but is it actually robbery? Is ‘theft’ different and where do we draw the line?

For us police officers, language makes a big difference. Swapping one word for another can make the difference between someone walking away from the cells with a caution and instead walking down the steps to prison.

Theft, burglary, robbery – all are similar offences but separated by some very important distinctions that affect how we and the courts would deal with offenders.

Starting off with the most basic offence, theft, us officers get made to memorise the definition given S. 1 by the Theft Act 1968 that a person commits theft when he or she ‘dishonestly appropriates property belonging to another with the intention of permanently depriving the other of it’.

The Act defines exactly what each component of this definition means, basically implying that the law will classify you as a thief is you knowingly take property that you have no right to and treat it in such a way as to prevent the lawful owner having use of it.

Robbery stems from this basic offence – theft is the seed from which the latter crime grows and without this seed, robbery cannot occur.

Robbery is defined under S. 8 of the Theft Act and is where in order to steal, an offender uses force or the threat of force. The force can be used before the theft takes place or at the time and doesn’t necessarily have to be against the victim.

So robbery is theft with the accompanying use of force, how is burglary different?

Whilst force is the separating factor between theft and robbery, it is trespassing that makes burglary distinct from simple theft. S. 9 of the Theft Act defines burglary with reference to entering ‘any building or part of a building as a trespasser’.

Not content with making the definition as simple as that though, S. 9 throws in a further consideration that if you enter a building as a trespasser not to steal but instead to cause damage or to seriously assault someone you can also consider yourself a burglar.

So there we have it, theft separated from robbery and the two more or less set apart from burglary. All are serious crimes and ones that we’re working hard to prevent with operations such as Serve & Protect ongoing to target the worst offenders.

As for how well we’re doing, you can have a look at some of the crime stats over on our official website – notice the drop in robbery by nearly a third since 2002 and total crime falling by not far from 20%.

The figures are heading in the right direction, no doubt partially due to people following crime prevention tips and avoiding becoming victims in the first place.

We’re looking to steal the easy opportunities from the criminals – with your help I’m sure we can drive crime down even further!

P.S. I had been asked by a friend to clarify what the difference is between the offences of ‘assault with intent to rob’ and ‘attempted robbery’. Looking into the advice that CPS offer, it seems that the first offence is an appropriate one to go for if the victim has managed to retain their property during, say, a struggle with the offender on the street. It is, however, an apparent grey area and I’d encourage anyone with a more detailed knowledge than me to leave a comment expanding further?

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1 Response to “She could steal but she could not rob…”


  1. 1 PS Aitch 07/07/2012 at 19:40

    As an ex-gatekeeper, my feeling would be that, as per the CPS guidelines, assault with intent to rob is an assault, with additional evidence as to the offender’s intention, eg. something in the circs, or an admission. Attempted robbery, on the other hand, needs to be “more than merely preparatory” to the full offence, which would suggest the (attempted) force or threat of force need be accompanied by an attempted theft, ie. going further towards the full offence.


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