In a nutshell, theft means dishonestly taking something that belongs to someone else, intending not to return it or not caring whether it is returned or not.

Theft covers a wide variety of dishonest behaviour, including shoplifting, stealing from an employer, leaving a petrol station without paying and many kinds of fraud. Dishonestly keeping something you have found or been given by mistake may amount to theft.

The maximum penalty for theft is 7 years in prison, unless it also involves a more serious offence - as it often does.  Theft with an added ingredient of trespassing on someone else's property is burglary, for which the maximum sentence is 14 years in prison. Theft accompanied by violence or the threat of it is robbery and can be punished by life imprisonment.


Theft or attempted theft and trespass together amount to burglary.  Burglary may also be committed by entering property as a trespasser while intending to do unlawful damage or cause grievous bodily harm.

Handling Stolen Goods

Handling stolen goods - whether buying them from the thief or merely being in possession of them - is a more serious offence than theft, and punishable by up to 14 years in prison; but, the offence is not committed unless the handler knows or believes the goods are stolen, or does not care whether they are.