The dishonest appropriation of property belonging to another with the intention of permanently depriving the other of it (see dishonesty). “Appropriation” is defined in the Theft Act 1968 as the assumption of the rights of the owner of the property and includes any act showing that one is treating the property as one's own, which need not necessarily involve taking it away. For example, switching price tags from one item to another in a shop to enable one to buy goods at a lower price could amount to an appropriation (R v Morris  AC 320 (HL), as could purporting to sell someone else's property (R v Pitham and Hehl (1976) 65 Cr App R 45). If a person acquires property without stealing it, but later decides to keep the property unlawfully, he may be regarded as having appropriated it (AG's Reference (No 1 of 1983)  QB 182). For example, if A lends his golf clubs to B for a week and B subsequently decides to keep the clubs or sell them, this indicates that B has assumed the rights of the owner unlawfully. “Property” includes all tangible and intangible objects and choses in action (e.g. bank balances) but there are special rules in the Theft Act 1968 governing land and wild plants and animals (see poaching). Property belongs to anyone who either owns it or has physical possession or control of it. The Act expressly states that a person is not dishonest if he believes (even if unreasonably) that he is legally entitled to appropriate the property or that the owner would consent or could not be discovered by taking reasonable steps. The punishment for theft is up to ten years' imprisonment.
Under the Theft Act 1978, obtaining goods or services without paying for them is now covered by the offence of making off without payment (see also shoplifting). Cases in which property is obtained by deception are usually dealt with as deception or fraud offences. Theft involving the use of force may amount to robbery. See also burglary; conveyance.