Criminal Law: Criminal Damage Offences

Criminal Damage Offences

Destroying & Damaging the Property of Others

Establishing the Offence

The actus reus of criminal damage is to destroy or damage property belonging to another without lawful excuse: Criminal Damage Act 1971, s 1(1).

The mens rea of criminal damage is twofold. Firstly, the defendant must intend to destroy or damage property or be subjectively reckless as to whether the property would be damaged or destroyed: Criminal Damage Act 1971, s 1(1). Secondly, the defendant must know that the property belongs to another or be recklessness as to whether it belongs to another: R v Smith [1974] QB 354.

‘Destroy’ or ‘Damage’

Damage covers ‘injury, mischief or harm’ to the property: Samuel v Stubbs [1972] 4 SASR 200. There is no need for the property to be rendered useless – the damage might only be slight: Gayford v Chouler [1898] 1 QB 316. Whether property is damaged is a matter of degree and depends on factors such as:

Property, flowers, tulips

The nature of the property: Samuel v Stubbs [1972] 4 SASR 200.

Explosion, fire

The method by which the property is affected: Samuel v Stubbs [1972] 4 SASR 200.

Intrusion, flooding into building

The extent of physical intrusion into the property and the victim’s ability to use it: compare Lloyd v DPP [1992] 1 All ER 982 with R v Fiak [2005] EWCA Crim 2381 and R v A (A Juvenile) [1978] Crim LR 689.

‘Destroy’ means damage which is so extreme it completely demolishes, lays to waste or kills (in the case of animals) the property: Barnet London BC v Eastern Electricity Board [1973] 2 All ER 319.

The defendant’s motive or understanding of his act is not relevant to whether there has been destruction or damage: Seray-Wurie v DPP [2012] EWHC 208 (Admin). This is particularly rleevant in graffiti cases, where the defendant might believe he is improving the property!

What is ‘Property’?

Property includes all items of a tangible nature (so not intellectual property or land rights). This includes tamed or captive animals, animal bodies and wild animals reduced to a person’s possession: Criminal Damage Act 1979, s 10(1). It does not include mushrooms, fruit or flowers growing wild on the land (s 10(1)), or people: R v Baker [1997] Crim LR 497.

When Does Property ‘Belong to Another?’

Section 10 of the Criminal Damage Act 1971 provides that property belongs to another for the purposes of this offence if:

  • Another person has custody or control of the property;
  • Another person has a proprietary right or interest in the property (other than an interest arising out of an agreement to transfer or grant an interest); or
  • Another person has a charge on the property.

Property held under a trust is treated as also belonging to any person with the right to enforce the trust.

For these purposes it does not matter that the defendant owns the property. It is enough that someone else meets one of the above criteria. Showing mens rea or lack of a lawful excuse may be difficult in such cases, however. If the defendant is the sole owner and no one else has any property rights, the property does not belong to another.

Lawful Excuse

The following are two common examples of cases in which the defendant will have a lawful excuse:

Consent, honest belief

The defendant honestly believed that another person (who the defendant believes is entitled to give consent) consented to the damage or destruction, or would do if they had known of the damage/destruction and its circumstances: Criminal Damage Act 1971, s 5(2)(a).

Protection, climbing together

The defendant did the act in order to protect his own property or property right/interest, or that of another, or property he believed belonged to himself or another. The defendant must honestly believe the property needed immediate protection and believe that his methods were reasonable in all the circumstances: Criminal Damage Act 1971, s 5(2)(b). Whether an act is done ‘in order to’ protect property is objectively ascertained: R v Hunt (1977) 66 Cr App R 105.

The following are common cases where the courts have held there is no lawful excuse:

Damage, political protest

Damaging property as an act of political protest is not a lawful excuse: R v Pritchard [2004] EWCA Crim 1981.

Damaging government property, books

Damaging property to prevent the government from acting in breach of international law is not a lawful excuse: R v Pritchard [2004] EWCA Crim 1981.

Arson

If the defendant commits criminal damage using fire, it is charged as arson instead: Criminal Damage Act 1971, s 1(3). The elements of the offence are the same, with an additional requirement that fire is used to damage or destroy the property and that the defendant intends to use fire to damage or destroy.


Destroying & Damaging the Property with Intent to Endanger

Establishing the Offence

The actus reus of criminal damage with intent to endanger is destroying or damaging property (as defined above) without lawful excuse, regardless of whether it belongs to himself or another person: Criminal Damage 1979, s 1(2).

The mens rea of criminal damage with intent to endanger is two-fold. Firstly, the defendant must intend to destroy or damage property, or be subjectively reckless as to whether property would be destroyed or damaged. Secondly, the defendant must intend to endanger another’s life by destroying or damaging the property, or must be subjectively reckless as to whether another’s life would be endangered: Criminal Damage 1979, s 1(2).

Spiral Staircase

It does not matter that no life was actually endangered: R v Parker [1993] Crim LR 856; R v Sangha [1998] 2 All ER 385.

Threat, punch, duress

The defendant must intend to endanger life by damaging property – it is insufficient that he intends to harm someone and incidentally damages property in the process: R v Steer [1988] AC 111; R v Warwick [1995] 1 Cr App 492.

Welding, damage metal

Unlike the basic criminal damage offence, the defendant does not have a lawful excuse merely because he believes he has consent or was acting to protect property: Criminal Damage Act 1971, s 5(1).


Threats to Destroy or Damage Property

Establishing the Offence

The actus reus of threatening to destroy of damage property is making a threat (to damage property) to another person, without lawful excuse: Criminal Damage Act 1971, s 2. Whether there is lawful excuse depends on which offence is threatened.

The mens rea of the offence is established if, by making the threat, the defendant intended that the other person would fear that it would be carried out to either a) destroy or damage property belonging to them or a third-party or b) destroy or damage the defendant’s own property in a way which he knows is likely to endanger the life of the other person or a third-party: Criminal Damage Act 1971, s 2.

Whether there is a threat is determined objectively. The threat can be implied. It is not relevant how the victim actually interpreted the threat so long as the defendant intended the relevant effect: R v Cakmak [2002] 2 Cr App R 10. It is enough that the defendant intended the victim to fear that the threat might be carried out even if they could not be certain: R v Ankerson [2015] EWCA Crim 432.


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Criminal Offences Against Property Quiz

Test yourself on the principles governing the offences against property.

1 / 50

Theresa is trying to break into a building. She uses a screwdriver to break a window, and during this process the screwdriver enters the building, but no part of Theresa's body does. For the purposes of establishing burglary, has Theresa entered the building?

 

2 / 50

For the purposes of theft, is there an appropriation if as part of the appropriating act the defendant acquires indefeasible property in the object?

 

3 / 50

For the purposes of the fraud offence, when is a statement false?

4 / 50

Margaret shoots a gun at Robert, intending to kill him. She misses and destroys a window. Could she be successfully prosecuted for destroying the property with intent to endanger life?

 

5 / 50

The defendant dishonestly tricks the victim into writing him a cheque. The defendant provided consideration. The defendant has taken the cheque but not cashed it. What has the defendant stolen?

6 / 50

For the purposes of the offence of possessing articles for fraud, the prosecution must prove the defendant had a specific future fraud in mind. True or false?

 

7 / 50

Elsie steals a necklace from a store, and exchanges it for a bicycle. Is the bicycle stolen?

 

8 / 50

When does a person 'possess' property for the purposes of theft?

9 / 50

In which three circumstances specified by the Theft Act 1968 will a defendant not be considered dishonest?

10 / 50

The defendant borrows the victim's month-long movie pass, intending to give it back after it has expired. Is is possible to convict the defendant of theft?

11 / 50

For the purposes of theft, is there an appropriation if the defendant has the owner's permission to interact with the property?

12 / 50

For the purposes of theft, can a defendant be convicted for stealing property he owns?

 

13 / 50

Which of the following three structures could constitute a building for the purposes of the burglary offence?

14 / 50

Lauren asks Raphael to burn some books she has in a compost bin in her back garden. Stephen goes to the garden, and realises that if he does so the fire is likely to spread in a way which would endanger the lives of some children playing next door. He does it anyway. When he is charged with criminal damage with intent to endanger life, he argues that he had a lawful excuse because he had the consent of the owner of the books to burn them. Will this argument succeed?

 

15 / 50

For the prosecution to prove robbery, must there be an assault?

 

16 / 50

Theresa enters Richard's house, intending to steal his jewellery. Once inside, she encounters Richard, and panics, picking up a nearby knife. Should Theresa be charged with ordinary burglary or aggravated burglary?

17 / 50

Paul knowingly makes a statement to Joanne, believing it to be false and attempting to fool Joanne into giving him money. She hands over the money. The statement just happens to be true. Has Paul committed an offence?

18 / 50

Does a defendant who borrows an object intend to permanently deprive the owner?

 

19 / 50

For the purposes of the offence of threats to destroy or damage property, must the victim interpret the defendants actions as a threat?

 

20 / 50

Marcus steals a car from Robert, who later manages to recover it. It is stolen again by Yula. Yula is caught immediately and charged with handling stolen goods, but her lawyer argues that the goods are no longer stolen. Will this argument succeed?

21 / 50

Roger learns that his brother Richard is being deported. He knows that the moment Richard lands in his home country, he will be murdered by corrupt government officials. Roger intentionally damages the plane that was set to deport Richard, giving Richard time to succeed in his asylum appeal. When charged with criminal damage, Roger argues he has lawful excuse, the government was acting in breach of international law by deporting Richard. Will this argument succeed?

 

22 / 50

Katy makes a false statement to Arnau, believing it to be true and trying to persuade Arnau to give her money. It would be obvious to a reasonable person that the statement was false. Has Katy committed fraud by false representation?

 

23 / 50

The defendant borrows the victim's wedding ring, and loans it to a pawn store. He intends to pay the loan off and get the ring back, at which point he will return it. Is it possible to convict the defendant of theft?

24 / 50

Roger intentionally damages a piece of government property (a coal-burning oven) while protesting climate change. When charged with criminal damage, he argues he has lawful excuse, because climate change is destroying the planet and he needs to draw attention to the issue. Will this defence succeed?

 

25 / 50

Rachel owns a house which she rents out to young families. There is no one living in it at the moment as she is having the kitchen renovated. During the period in which the house is empty, it is burgled by John. Is the building a dwelling?

 

26 / 50

For the purposes of the Theft Act offences, when is a piece of property 'appropriated'?

27 / 50

Can a defendant be convicted of destroying or damaging property with intent to endanger life if no-one's life is actually endangered?

 

28 / 50

Paul knowingly makes a statement to Joanne, attempting to get Joanne to give him money. The statement is true and Paul believes it is true, but later it becomes false and he discovers this. Joanne hands over the money after Paul has discovered the fact is now false. Has Paul committed fraud by false representation?

 

29 / 50

When is a defendant dishonest?

30 / 50

Lauren steals a car from Celestine and sells it to Ricky, who is unaware the car is stolen. Ricky then sells and gives the car to Julie, who does know the car was originally stolen from Celestine. Has Julie committed the offence of handling stolen goods?

31 / 50

Paul knowingly sends a letter to Joanne, containing a statement which he believes to be false and attempting to fool Joanne into giving him money. The letter never arrives. Has Paul committed fraud by false representation?

 

32 / 50

When establishing the offence of blackmail, the prosecution must show that:

33 / 50

To establish the mens rea of burglary, the prosecution must show that:

34 / 50

For the purposes of theft, is it possible to appropriate an object without acquiring control over it or physically interacting with it?

 

35 / 50

Which four factors are relevant to whether the property has been 'damaged' for the purposes of criminal damage?

36 / 50

When establishing fraud by false representation, the prosecution must show that the victim was deceived by the false representation. True or false?

 

37 / 50

For the purposes of theft, can there be an appropriation if the victim does not lose anything?

 

38 / 50

A person is accused of fraud by abuse of position. What position must the prosecution demonstrate the person occupied to establish the offence?

39 / 50

The prosecution is seeking to establish the offence of burglary. For the purposes of showing that the defendant entered the building, the prosecution must show that the defendant was sufficiently within the building to commit the offence. True or false?

 

40 / 50

Theresa enters Richard's house, intending to steal his jewellery. Once inside, she becomes concerned that Richard may still be in the building so she picks up a knife from the kitchen. Should Theresa be charged with ordinary burglary or aggravated burglary?

41 / 50

Michael threatens Adrian that he will reveal sensitive information if Adrian does not have sex with him. Has Michael committed blackmail?

42 / 50

What is the mens rea of criminal damage?

43 / 50

Harold decides to steal from Richard's house. He is let into the building by Richard's daughter Yula, who is in love with him. Yula lives in the house, but does not own or occupy it. Can Harold be convicted of burglary?

44 / 50

For the purposes of the offence of possessing articles for fraud, the article must have only illegal functions. True or false?

 

45 / 50

Liza purchases a car from Ricky, not realising or suspecting that it is stolen. Has she 'appropriated' the car?

 

46 / 50

What additional element must the prosecution show to establish aggravated burglary (as opposed to normal burglary)?

47 / 50

Paul knowingly makes a statement to Joanne, attempting to get Joanne to give him money. The statement is true and Paul believes it is true, but later it becomes false and he discovers this. Joanne hands over the money after Paul has discovered the fact is now false. Has Paul committed fraud by non-disclosure?

 

48 / 50

Can a pure opinion be a representation for the purposes of fraud?

 

49 / 50

For the purposes of the offence of possessing articles for fraud, the defendant does not need to physically possess the article. True or false?

 

50 / 50

For the purposes of blackmail, what is 'menaces'?

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