At work, if I deliberately place a sticker on a jar of nice coffee which says "help yourself", without the knowledge or consent of the owner of that coffee, and knowing the coffee isn't mine and and in the absence of any evidence that the owner wants it given away, am I committing a crime?

Its a stupid, antisocial thing to do so I wouldn't do it, but I am curious. The person taking the coffee has no mens rea, they don't know that the owner has not consented.


I think Dale M is essentially correct. Let me give more detail by quoting the Theft Act 1968:

1 Basic definition of theft (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 “Appropriates”.

(1) Any assumption by a person of the rights of an owner amounts to an appropriation, and this includes, where he has come by the property (innocently or not) without stealing it, any later assumption of a right to it by keeping or dealing with it as owner.

(2) Where property or a right or interest in property is or purports to be transferred for value to a person acting in good faith, no later assumption by him of rights which he believed himself to be acquiring shall, by reason of any defect in the transferor’s title, amount to theft of the property.

You assume the rights of an owner by placing a notice offering it to other people. Therefore it is theft. I presume similar laws exist in other juristictions.


Yes, the crime is called theft or stealing or larceny.

You took possession of someone else’s property (by putting the sign on it) with the intention of permanently depriving them of it - the fact that you personally did not benefit from the theft is irrelevant.

  • That...doesn't seem like that's what that word means. Specifically, '[taking] possession of'...doesn't seem to make sense? It was not literally taken by the person who put the sign up. Do you have some juridprudence supporting that position?
    – Stackstuck
    Feb 2 '18 at 1:53
  • 2
    @Stackstuck if you act like you are the owner you have “taken possession”
    – Dale M
    Feb 2 '18 at 1:58
  • I can, I suppose, understand what you said there, but...am still struggling with connecting the dots.
    – Stackstuck
    Feb 2 '18 at 7:44

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.