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A Scottish group called This Is Rigged, protesting the cost of living crisis, has been entering supermarkets and moving items such as food and baby formula from the shelves straight into the food bank donation bins. Sometimes this involved ripping anti-shoplifting tags from the products. According to Novara Media,

"Activists told Novara Media that they don’t believe that their activities are illegal, as they aren’t taking the items out of the property – but that they’re willing to accept the consequences for their actions."

Are they correct that their actions are not illegal?

https://novaramedia.com/2023/06/06/meet-the-robin-hood-style-activists-shoplifting-for-food-banks/

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    Theft is simply the intentional act of depriving someone of their belongings so there is no requirement to leave the store with it. Their intent is for those goods to be given away which is depriving the store from the right to sell those goods.
    – jesse_b
    Mar 27 at 22:27
  • @jesse_b, I'd upvote that as an answer... Mar 27 at 23:06
  • Can't find the quoted text in the linked article. I think you meant novaramedia.com/2023/06/06/….
    – Lag
    Mar 28 at 10:59
  • @Lag You are correct, I have edited
    – DannyH
    Mar 28 at 16:04

1 Answer 1

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Under common law principles, this may not constitute a theft because the suspects are not carrying the products "away" from the owner's premises.

But this does seem to be a theft under the Theft Act of 1968:

(1) 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.

(2) It is immaterial whether the appropriation is made with a view to gain, or is made for the thief’s own benefit.

(3) The five following sections of this Act shall have effect as regards the interpretation and operation of this section (and, except as otherwise provided by this Act, shall apply only for purposes of this section).

As I read it, the main question is whether this activity constitutes "appropriating." But the statute defines "appropriate" to mean "any assumption ... of the rights of an owner," which seems to be what's happening here -- one cannot donate property unless she owns it, so placing it in the donation bin is an assumption of the owner's rights.

So if it's an appropriation, the rest seems to fall into place neatly:

  • That appropriation is dishonest because the activists do not actually have any right to the property.
  • The property belongs to another.
  • The activists' hope is that some third party will take it away from the owner.
  • The activists' lack of benefit provides no defense.
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  • I don't think this affects the substance of your answer but the behaviour occurred in Scotland and the Theft Act 1968 revises "the law of England and Wales as to theft and similar or associated offences". In Scots law, theft is "the taking or appropriating the property of another without the true owner’s consent and with the intent to deprive the owner of that property". /pedant
    – Lag
    Mar 28 at 11:01
  • Not too pedantic at all, I don't think. You always have to start with jurisdiction. But I think you're right; it still leads us to the same outcome.
    – bdb484
    Mar 28 at 15:18
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    Is it relevant if the donation bin is not owned or operated by a third party, but by the shop themselves? So the shop will only be deprived of an item if they take the items from the bin themselves and hand it to a charity, which they could choose not to do on an item-by-item basis.
    – DannyH
    Mar 28 at 15:58
  • I guess it depends on how the bins work. The bins that I've seen (in the U.S.) are owned by the business but generally allow customers to independently take whatever they want. It sounds like you're thinking about a system where people still have to go through the owner to claim items from the donation bin. If that's the case, then yes, I think that might change the outcome.
    – bdb484
    Mar 28 at 16:53
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    @DannyH It seems irrelevant to me. The activist has appropriated an item (assumed the property rights over it) and intends the owner is permanently deprived of it. The owner doesn't know whether an item in the donation bin has been purchased or not (recall that the activist removes security tags). In effect the activist has hidden the item on the owner's premises, so the owner cannot exercise its rights over the item, so the activist has deprived the owner.
    – Lag
    Mar 28 at 17:17

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