So say you have a car, and I steal your car, but with the intention to return it back to you after 2 years. It means I do not wish to "permanently deprive" you of your car. I will treat the car with care, so that when I return it back to you, it will remind as intact as possible. Therefore, the "goodness or virtue" of the car remains.

Intention permanently to deprive is one of the two main requirements of mens rea for theft.

I know in practice the verdict is not always predictable, as judges sometimes distort the clear wording of the act to achieve justice. But according to clear wording of the act, the defendent in the scenario doesn't have the sufficient mens rea right? So would this still be regarded as theft? Even tho common sense tells you it does?

1 Answer 1


Theoretically speaking, this is not theft. You are correct in that theft requires specific intent: to permanently deprive someone from the use and enjoyment of one of their lawful possessions.

In real life, it is a matter of evidence of course. Saying you were only borrowing can be proven otherwise based on your actions.

I should also mention that if you "borrow" something an there were obligations attached to that borroeing (e.g. "you can borrow it but you mustnt use it like this, or you must return it in a week") then failing to abide by those obligations can be sufficient to show intention to deprive.

Furthermore "borrowing something" and consuming its entire usefulness for yourself counts as the permanent deprivation of the use of the possession from the owner. E.g. "borrowing" concert tickets and returning them after a concert (see s.6 Theft Act 1968)

R v Lloyd, Bhuee & Ali [1985] QB 829 also tells us that the condition of something borrowed once returned may be indicative of whether there was an intention to permanently deprive someone of their rights to property.

  • but what if I didn't borrow. I stole your car, but I don't have the intention to permanently deprive. And as I said, the car will be intact and its virtue will remain. So in that case, the defendant cannot be charged with theft, but can only be charged with borring without permission? Isn't that a bit unfair? Because that means, when someone is charged with theft they can simply state that they intend to return it back later? And the prosecution will have a hard time trying to disprove it beyond reasonable doubt? Jun 27, 2017 at 15:59
  • Factors such as how long the thing was deprived from the owner, the usefulness of the property, the extent that the accused used the property are all relevent in determining whether the accused had intention to permanently deprive. Just because he returned it in the end or says he was always going to return it doesnt mean its impossible or difficult to prove the necessary intent Jun 27, 2017 at 16:08
  • I would think that it is also possible to permanently deprive someone of the use of chattel for a period of time. The use of the thing over the two years might be something that can be stolen. After all, there is such a thing as a term of years estate in property.
    – ohwilleke
    Jun 28, 2017 at 1:18
  • I believe intent is the key here - if the defence could prove they were going to return the car, and were going to look after it (to a similar standard as the owner) in the interim, then the argument may have some merit. However, the prosecution would (quite reasonably) argue that the defendant had no such intent and was "just saying that" to get away with theft. Given the vast precedent of thieves before this case, I'd imagine that line would carry considerable weight, but I'm sure mitigating circumstances would have their part to play (if any were relevant) Jan 17, 2018 at 12:27

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