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Why Keeping Money You Find Can Result in a Criminal Conviction

By Solicitor, Criminal & Misconduct

A woman has been convicted of theft after pocketing a £20 note she found on a display case in a shop.

Nicole Bailey was called to a voluntary police interview after the shop owner recognised her in CCTV footage picking up the money which had been dropped moments earlier by a fellow customer. The 23-year-old secretarial administrator, from Blurton, Stoke-On-Trent, pleaded guilty to theft and was ordered to pay £175 in court costs and charges.

Many people might assume they are entitled to keep money on the street, but they could be guilty of the little-known offence of theft by finding.

The Law on Theft by Finding Explained

Few people understand how the law works in relation to finding and keeping money or goods lost by someone else.

If you hold the belief that the property has been abandoned then it is not theft to keep it. Clearly, if the object in question is money it would be reasonable to assume that it has been accidentally dropped or lost and therefore would not have been intentionally abandoned.

In order for the act of picking up and taking something found to be classed as theft, dishonesty has to be proven. Whether or not dishonesty was an element of an offence is decided upon using the ‘dishonesty test’.

The Dishonesty Test

The dishonesty test asks two questions:

  1. According to the ordinary standards of reasonable and honest people, was what was done dishonest?
  2. If it was dishonest by those standards, did the defendant realise that reasonable and honest people would regard the conduct as dishonest?

Ms Bailey was guilty of theft because initially, she initially denied taking the money, then admitting to it after being shown the CCTV footage of her picking up the £20 note.

Even though she didn’t realise what she had done was theft her denial lends weight to the proposition that her behaviour was dishonest.

What She Should Have Done

The Theft Act 1968 dictates that a person is not acting dishonestly where they appropriate “the property in the belief that the person to whom the property belongs cannot be discovered by taking reasonable steps.” Therefore, should the specific circumstances place an onus on someone to consider taking reasonable steps, and they fail to do so, they cannot benefit from this piece of legislation.

In this case, it would mean going to the store owner and handing over the responsibility of the lost money to them.

Ms Bailey’s failure to do so made her possession of the money dishonest.

This is a complicated area of the law and some people can unwittingly or completely inadvertently find themselves accused of theft by finding and is important to seek professional advice.

Chris Fallows is a criminal defence solicitor at Slater and Gordon Lawyers in Manchester.

If you need legal representation from a criminal defence solicitor call freephone 0800 916 9082 or contact us online and we will maximise your chances of achieving the best results possible.

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