Tonight a store security guard accosted me after leaving their store. He grabbed my bag and refused to let go. Bit of a stalemate, could have been there efor hours. Eventually sorted it out with the store manager but with hindsight I'm pondering:

What would have happened had I just let go and left him holding the bag and walked off? Apart from the comedy of leaving him with a bag of shopping that wasn't his and not being sure what he could do with it, would it constitute theft?

(I'm in the United Kingdom.)

3 Answers 3


No it is not theft

Stealing requires removing property with the intent to permanently deprive the true owner of it: it would be almost impossible to argue such intent.

It is assault and, probably, battery and kidnapping

Assault is where you are put under a reasonable apprehension of physical harm: the guard grabbing your personal possessions would do this.

Battery is where an assault moves to physical contact: there is no need for there to be physical harm.

Kidnapping is where you are deprived of your personal freedom of movement: refusing to release your bag would do this.


Anyone can place another person under arrest if the first person has a reasonable belief that the second person is currently committing a crime (police can arrest for crimes committed in the past). However, there are very strict rules about how an arrest may be affected and your guy didn't comply with them.


I am not a lawyer, I am not your lawyer, I am not even from the UK.

Barring a UK specific statue, we turn to the Common Law, wherein Theft is the crime of:
1) The unlawful taking and carrying away of

2) Someone else's property

3) Without the consent of the owner and with

4) The intent to deprive the owner of the property permanently

In order to be theft, all 4 points must be met. In the case which you described actually happening described, elements 2 and 3 are clearly met. However, 1 is still debatable, and it is generally assumed that in this situation, as described, 4 is false.

1) Is it could or could not be lawful for the security guard to detain you and search you possessions. Certainly I've seen signs on stores claiming this right, but these are not necessarily legally accurate. So stoping and searching may or may not be lawful depending on the specific statues of where you live.

4) Assuming that the security guard is "acting in good faith", or doing what is right, proper and expected as a security guard (one might call it "just doing his or her job"), then the security guard has no intention of depriving you of your property permanently. He or she would merely intend to deprive you of the store's property permanently, or detaining you until your property is verified as such

(In my experience, receipts are always issued at any place that has a security guard, and are a good, quickly verifiable means of establishing that "this stuff is my property").

In the theoretical case you described, in addition to the above, point 3 would also probably not be met, as your leaving the bag could be construed as consent, as you are the one leaving.

In summary, no, I don't think it would be theft.


To answer that we have to take a look at Theft Act 1968 which defines theft as:

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.

So there are three key features for an action to be classified as theft: it must be taken from another person, dishonestly and with an intention to keep it permanently. And on just the very first point it is clear that theft could not have taken place, as he didn't take possession of your bag, or according to what you've said even intended to do so. Not to mention satisfying second or last point, as if he didn't plan to take the item, it's a stretch to assume that he intended to keep it.

What you could've argued that happened was placing you under arrest, so to understand it better let us look at the job of security guard. His duty, among other things, to ensure that no one steals from the store. And if they suspect someone of shoplifting, they are in the right to detain you. This is a right that every citizen has, and it's defined under The Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984. The rules are quite simple, and if you are curious, you are welcome to open a question about it.

As you were not committing any crime, you should have called the police the very moment he refused to let go of your bag and the guard would potentially be liable for assault.

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