Having just watched the episode of The Crown (Netflix series) dealing with the break in at Buckingham Palace in 1982 by unemployed man, Michael Fagan, I looked up the Wikipedia entry on the matter and was surprised to find the following:

Since Fagan's actions were, at the time, a civil wrong rather than a criminal offence, he was not charged with trespassing in the Queen's bedroom.He was charged with theft (of the wine), but the charges were dropped when he was committed for psychiatric evaluation. In late July, Fagan's mother said, "He thinks so much of the Queen. I can imagine him just wanting to simply talk and say hello and discuss his problems." He spent the next three months in a psychiatric hospital before being released on 21 January 1983.

It was not until 2007, when Buckingham Palace became a "designated site" for the purposes of section 128 of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005, that such an offence has become criminal.

Although there is no criminal law of trespass in the UK, I was always of the understanding that there was a law against "housebreaking" (or is it "breaking and entering"?) and that if it took place after dark it was a more serious offence of "burglary". Though I can well appreciate that if no goods were taken it would unlikely qualify as burglary.

But there was evidence that Fagan broke a window to get into the building, after shinning up a drainpipe - at least on the second of the two occasions.

Why would he not have been charged with "housebreaking"?

1 Answer 1


Why would he not have been charged with "housebreaking"?

In neither "house breaking" nor "breaking and entering" are legal terms: the offence is called burglary contrary to s.9 of the Theft Act 1968 which in 1983 was:

(1) A person is guilty of burglary if—

(a) he enters any building or part of a building as a trespasser and with intent to commit any such offence as is mentioned in subsection (2) below; or

(b) having entered any building or part of a building as a trespasser he steals or attempts to steal anything in the building or that part of it or inflicts or attempts to inflict on any person therein any grievous bodily harm.

(2) The offences referred to in subsection (1)(a) above are offences of stealing anything in the building or part of a building in question, of inflicting on any person therein any grievous bodily harm or raping any woman therein, and of doing unlawful damage to the building or anything therein.

There is no difference between nightime and daytime entry, and there is no requirement for a forced entry. All that's needed is to go in without permission intending or attempting to do one of the relevant offences.

I can only surmise that the reason(s) theft, rather than burglary, was charged was a (pre CPS) prosecutorial decision based on the admissible evidence, Fagan's mental state and what was in the public interest because the quoted text seems to meet the criteria for burglary. (ETA subject to the actual circumstances surrounding the alleged theft of the wine, which are not clear from the quoted text.)

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    That appears to be a succinct and well-informed answer. But does that mean that if someone goes into an occupied house, with the intention only of sheltering from the weather overnight - that no offence is committed? Presumably the police would attend, if 999 were called, and assist the householder in the use of reasonable force to evict the trespasser. Would that then be the end of it? (I am of course aware that if the house is unoccupied that there is no law against squatting, and it then becomes a quite lengthy process to evict the squatters.)
    – WS2
    Mar 28, 2021 at 12:16
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    @WS2 Thanks, and yes: entering a house, or any other building, just for shelter is not burglary in E&W (unless it's a protected site legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2005/15/section/128?timeline=false)
    – user35069
    Mar 28, 2021 at 12:41
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    If I read this correctly, then entering a building with the sole intent to gain shelter, and once inside changing your mind and smashing everything up without stealing anything would not be burglary? (But then I suppose smashing the place up is a crime in itself, and you would be just as guilty as a person who I invited and who did the same thing).
    – gnasher729
    Mar 28, 2021 at 23:53
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    @gnasher729 You read it correctly, and it will be purely Criminal Damage in your scenario. But it may be burglary if the trespasser went in to another room (ie "or part of building") with the intent to do the smashing up.
    – user35069
    Mar 29, 2021 at 6:37
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    @RockApe I still find it quite difficult to grasp the idea that a man breaking into a house and entering a woman's bedroom unannounced, cannot be charged with an offence under the criminal law - especially since nowadays "stalking" is an offence.
    – WS2
    Mar 29, 2021 at 14:52

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