In English criminal law, handling takes place after the theft is completed and is committed by a fence or other person who helps the thief to realise the value of the stolen goods.
Under s22 Theft Act 1968
- A person handles stolen goods if (otherwise than in the course of 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.
Prior to the Serious Crime and Police Act 2005 (SOCAP), handling stolen goods was a hybrid offence
(otherwise know as an "either way offence") with a maximum term on conviction
of 14 years imprisonment
to represent the potential seriousness of the offence regardless to the monetary value of goods stolen. Any offence committed after the introduction of SOCAP is treated as an arrestable offence. It also has a very wide range of wordings for charging purposes with more than twenty possible permutations for the offence, i.e. "undertakes the retention", "assists the retention', "arranges to undertake the retention", etc.
Elements of the offence
The mens rea
for "guilty mind") test of dishonesty
for undertaking or assisting in the retention, removal, disposal or realisation of stolen goods by or for the benefit of another person, or arranging to do so, is the same as for theft
(see R v Ghosh
75 Cr App R 154).
This is property stolen by any of the means criminalised in the Theft Acts, whether by robbery
, deception, blackmail
, etc. and includes all the forms of property, both tangible and intangible, protected. This element must be proved separately and, because this offence is committed "otherwise than in the course of stealing", the actus reus
(the Latin for "guilty act") of the stealing must have been completed before the alleged handler comes into possession. Further, the fact that the accused admits knowledge or belief that the goods were stolen is not sufficient, but such admissions as to how he or she came into possession may prove that the goods were stolen. The fact of stealing is usually proved by evidence
given by the owner as to the circumstances in which the goods were taken.
Knowledge or belief that goods were stolen
The accused's knowledge
may be based on what the thief says or some other positive information confirming the fact, but belief
is less than knowledge and more than mere suspicion
, being a reasonable conclusion drawn from what the accused does know. If, despite the circumstances, the accused unreasonably refuses to believe that which is obvious, this form of wilful blindness (see recklessness
) will be treated as a belief that the goods are stolen. Thus, suspicion
will be converted into belief when the facts are so obvious that belief may safely be imputed
. So if the defendant bought goods in a dark alley for a fraction of their true value and it is clear that identification marks or serial numbers have been erased, any denial of belief by the defendant would not be credible. But, if there is genuine doubt as to the defendant's knowledge or belief, a s1 theft charge is more appropriate, particularly if he or she later discovered that the goods were stolen and dishonestly kept them.
This used to give rise to an issue of impossibility in that the defendant may be dishonest and intend to handle goods which he believes to be stolen but which are not in fact stolen. Now, s1 Criminal Attempts Act 1981 confirms that such a defendant can be convicted.
Relationship to laundering
Laundering is now an offence under ss.327/9 and 340(3)(b) Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 and the distinction with handling depends on whether the defendant's intention was to launder the proceeds of crime or merely to assist a thief. Laundering covers large amounts of money in a series of transactions over time when the defendant knows or suspects that the assets which he has concealed, acquired, used, possessed, or in respect of which he has entered into an arrangement which he knows or suspects facilitates the acquisition, retention, use or control of criminal property by or on behalf of another person, are the proceeds of criminal conduct (compare money laundering