Possession Nine Tenths of the Law ?

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Mutant Lemming

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You see all manner of railway related items for sale in all manner of places from e-bay to transport fairs. Some items have probably been acquired in a dubious fashion and I wondered where one stood in such a siutaion. Say for instance you purchased a British Railways totem from someone who had unscrewed it from their local station 45 years ago chucked it up in their loft and forgot all about it till they had a clearout and then stuck it on e-bay? Would the current owners of the particular station be able to claim it back as their historic property ? What if the station was closed and no longer exists ? Is there a time scale on it whereby the original thief can claim the item as theirs because of the length of time it was in their possession and what if the item changed hands several times ?
 
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Wath Yard

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How would you be able to prove someone stole something, something that nobody else wanted and was of no use to the railway by the way, 45 years ago? I have a decent collection of WTTs from the 70s-90s. These were not published and I expect they were all taken home by employees, some possibly without permission, but so what?
 

142094

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In the US there is a Statue of Limitations, which means that the police have a certain amount of time to make a case and prosecute you. Someone on here will have a better idea of UK law, but it probably wouldn't be in the interests of the CPS to prosecute someone a long time after the crime such as this has been committed.
 

Mutant Lemming

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I'm just wondering what the official 'take' on it is. If you were to go to your local station and unscrew the sign tonight , if caught you would be charged with theft. If you sold it, the people you sold it to could possibly face charges of handling stolen goods. Both crimes could land you with a criminal record. The same may be the case if you had stolen one 10 years ago but is there a difference if it was 20 years ago ?
 

ralphchadkirk

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You could, theoretically, be charged with burglary and/or criminal damage for that Mutant!

I'm not sure whether there is a time limit. It certainly isn't in the public interest to prosecute, but it's an interesting legal theory question.
 

Wath Yard

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Strangely I think the BTP have slightly more important things to worry about than investigating whether someone who is probably now dead stole a totem from a station closed in the Beeching era.
 

ralphchadkirk

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Strangely I think the BTP have slightly more important things to worry about than investigating whether someone who is probably now dead stole a totem from a station closed in the Beeching era.
And everyone who has answered has stated it's not in the public interest.
 

Mutant Lemming

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Strangely I think the BTP have slightly more important things to worry about than investigating whether someone who is probably now dead stole a totem from a station closed in the Beeching era.
What about an NSE one ?
It was more a general point rather than a specific one. Anything current like signs, uniforms, keys - would most definitely interest the BTP but how obsolete do they have to be before they are no longer considered 'stolen' or property of the 'railway'?
 

PinzaC55

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You'd need to go back 45 years and establish that the thing was nicked; trace the current inheritors of the original ownership; establish that the inheritors wanted to press charges; bring a court case.
Alternatively you could just be glad that somebody bothered to save it when it was worthless junk.
I remember that in about 1974 I found a track circuit diamond and an LNER enamel posterboard heading wedged behind the wall of my local station and I left them there because my parents gave me grief about bringing "junk" home. Was that better than saving them?
 

34D

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In the US there is a Statue of Limitations, which means that the police have a certain amount of time to make a case and prosecute you. Someone on here will have a better idea of UK law, but it probably wouldn't be in the interests of the CPS to prosecute someone a long time after the crime such as this has been committed.
Here in the UK, we have a civil limitations statute of 6 years (12 for deeds/mortgages). HOWEVER this doesn't apply to criminal matters.

Put it simply - if you had an invoice for something in 2005 then if it is still unpaid (subject to things I won't go into here) then it is probably time-barred now.

In theory though your thief of a totem 50 years ago could be arrested.

If anyone is contemplating buying an artefact of any value then it may be prudent to ask the seller to sign an indemnity document (take legal advice here, don't just download something random).

Surely strictly speaking many items would belong to BR Residuary Ltd or the Railway Heritage Committee?
 

ex-railwayman

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It's a very interesting question from the OP, I read a couple of month's ago that a man was convicted of a rape that he committed 25 years ago in Southern England.
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-kent-16728406
I agree that the severity of the crime is a total different kettle of fish as to the type of crime starting this thread, but, if the statute of limitations in this case over 25 years is still active, then I would say that anybody who has been proven to have committed a crime with evidence that the CPS can prosecute with will be heard in court, if it's a tiddly little bit of railway equipment like a station platform sign, then, will the legal beavers want to waste their time with it if no evidence can be offered to secure a criminal conviction, very doubtful.

I also wished to know how anyone can actually 'sell' WTT's as they are private publications for the rail industry only, never for the general public to purchase, none of them have a price printed on the covers. As an ex-railwayman, with an old ID card that I would produce to emphasise the fact, I could challenge anyone selling them at a Railway Fair, or, Museum, stating that they are Railway Property not for sale, however, I wouldn't do it as I'm not that kind of person, and the majority of them belonged to B.R. which as a company now doesn't exist, but, it does make you wonder.

Cheerz. ex-railwayman.
 
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Mutant Lemming

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Although many items and artefacts of historical interest may not be around if someone hadn't 'half-inched' them for 'posterity' (or whatever), I could see a prosecution arising if someone blatantly stated they had knicked the sign from Loudwater back in 1967 for instance. Not doing so would then give people a line of defence for stealing current items.
 

DaveNewcastle

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There isn't a very simple answer to the question of legal ownership and theft of long-abandoned items.
Application of Theft Law ranges from the man charged with stealing his own car, through the concept of property being abandoned by its former owner, to the unimpeded trade of documents taken from the rubbish bins of London law-firms and left out to dry in his garden by Benjamin Pell.
 

ralphchadkirk

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Theft law is an absolute nightmare. You can't be convicted of theft for filling your car up with petrol and then driving off because of a loophole, you can steal from yourself and words - like dishonesty - are often undefined.
 

GB

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Theft law is an absolute nightmare. You can't be convicted of theft for filling your car up with petrol and then driving off because of a loophole, you can steal from yourself and words - like dishonesty - are often undefined.
I dont see what loophole exists that prevents a person being prosecuted for stealing fuel.
 

ralphchadkirk

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I dont see what loophole exists that prevents a person being prosecuted for stealing fuel.
In the original 1968 act, you couldn't be prosecuted for taking fuel and then driving off because of a loophole whereby the fuel did not belong to another (an essential part of theft) at the time of the appropriation. This was seen in Edwards v Ddin where he filled up and drove off. He couldn't be convicted of theft because when he left the garage, and thus appropriated the petrol, it did not, at that point 'belong to another' in the strict legal sense, as he had both possession and control of it, and it could not be separated from the petrol in his fuel tank before he filled up. This loophole existed with such situations like eating a meal and then not paying.

The Theft Act 1978 created the new offence of making off to close this loophole, but as it stands, you cannot be convicted of theft for stealing petrol by filling up and driving off, but you can be convicted of making off without payment.
 

D1009

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I also wished to know how anyone can actually 'sell' WTT's as they are private publications for the rail industry only, never for the general public to purchase, none of them have a price printed on the covers. As an ex-railwayman, with an old ID card that I would produce to emphasise the fact, I could challenge anyone selling them at a Railway Fair, or, Museum, stating that they are Railway Property not for sale, however, I wouldn't do it as I'm not that kind of person, and the majority of them belonged to B.R. which as a company now doesn't exist, but, it does make you wonder.
BR passed many obsolete items of railway equipment and internal publications officially on to Collectors Corner to be sold with BR permission. From then on the "Private and not for publication" on the cover ceased to have any relevance.
 

LE Greys

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Theft law is an absolute nightmare. You can't be convicted of theft for filling your car up with petrol and then driving off because of a loophole, you can steal from yourself and words - like dishonesty - are often undefined.
Can someone explain that, please?
 

ralphchadkirk

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Can someone explain that, please?
Certainly. The case is R v Turner.

Turner took his car to a garage to be repaired. The repairs were done, and the mechanic parked the car outside the garage. Turner then reappeared and drove the car away without paying. His appropriation of the car was dishonest, and as the garage currently was the current possessor and he did intend to permanently deprive the current possessor of the car he was convicted of theft of his own car.
 

Eagle

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Certainly. The case is R v Turner.

Turner took his car to a garage to be repaired. The repairs were done, and the mechanic parked the car outside the garage. Turner then reappeared and drove the car away without paying. His appropriation of the car was dishonest, and as the garage currently was the current possessor and he did intend to permanently deprive the current possessor of the car he was convicted of theft of his own car.
That presumably predates the 1978 act, because today this would be considered absconding without payment.
 

ralphchadkirk

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That presumably predates the 1978 act, because today this would be considered absconding without payment.
It was in 1971 IIRC. Making off without payment was introduced in 1978 for the reasons that were brought up in Edwards v Ddin. I suppose that if Turner had happened today it would be making off, however Turner is still good law.
 

Ploughman

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To me one of the fairly obvious examples of possible theft would be any mileposts from a line still open.
I am thinking here of posts from companies such as the LNER who had the line origin incorporated in the milepost head.
I can recall a number of occasions when surveying a track for renewal and noting down relevant mileposts as being present and then a few months later going back to do the work and the post had gone. Infuriating especially when that post had been designated by NWR as being the site reference point.
 

W230

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That presumably predates the 1978 act, because today this would be considered absconding without payment.
Nope. It's still considered theft under the stated case listed above. The theft act 1968 is absolutely littered with case law.

There are all sorts of interesting (ok maybe not ;)) case laws surrounding it. Such as where property is not tangible (for example putting your rubbish in someone else's skip is theft if they've paid for that skip), electricity has its own subsection (abstraction of electricity), then there's the whole area of wild mushrooms/flowers!! :lol:
 

NY Yankee

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In the US there is a Statue of Limitations, which means that the police have a certain amount of time to make a case and prosecute you. Someone on here will have a better idea of UK law, but it probably wouldn't be in the interests of the CPS to prosecute someone a long time after the crime such as this has been committed.
In the US, if a person made a reasonable effort to look for it, then they can reclaim it. But like you said, there is a statute of limitation.
 

ralphchadkirk

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There are all sorts of interesting (ok maybe not ;)) case laws surrounding it. Such as where property is not tangible (for example putting your rubbish in someone else's skip is theft if they've paid for that skip), electricity has its own subsection (abstraction of electricity), then there's the whole area of wild mushrooms/flowers!! :lol:
Tell me about it! I'm trying to get my head around theft, burglary and robbery at the moment. It's an absolute nightmare!
I find the case law quite interesting though - the Judgment for the substantive and effective entry for burglary in R v Collins is hilarious.
 

michael769

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He couldn't be convicted of theft because when he left the garage, and thus appropriated the petrol, it did not, at that point 'belong to another' in the strict legal sense, as he had both possession and control of it,
This problem arose because at that time (and indeed in many cases this still applies) legal title to goods changed hands at the point where it was measured out, and not when payment was made, meaning that the fuel belonged to the driver as soon is it left the nozzle. The issue of payment was then a civil contract matter which left retailers unable to obtain the assistance of the police, without which it was extremely difficult for them to identify the offender and enforce payment.

This problem also applied in a wide variety of retail contexts.
 
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