Is snatching a mobile phone considered theft or robbery?

21 October 2020

Not reviewed after the date of publication

Question: 

If a suspect runs past a victim and snatches an item out of their hand i.e. a mobile phone, but no force was used or threatened, is this classed as robbery or a theft?

Answer:

Section 8 of the Theft Act 1968 defines the offences of robbery and assault with intent to rob.

8(1) A person is guilty of robbery if he steals, and immediately before or at the time of doing so, and in order to do so, he uses force on any person or puts or seeks to put any person in fear of being then and there subjected to force.

Please see our notes at the bottom of section 8 on PNLD, and in our explanatory document - Theft Act 1968 - concepts of stealing / timing / force / fear and other matters relating to robbery. The relevant parts are however outlined below:

'(ii) In order to prove that an offence of assault with intent to rob has been committed, it is necessary to show –

1. That an assault took place.

2. That the force or threat of force was for the purpose of stealing.

Typical examples of cases for this offence would be –

a robbery which has been interrupted and was not completed due to intervention or resistance; or

a robbery which cannot be completed because the victim cannot hand over property which he has not got.'

'Force immediately before or at the time

Force is not defined and it has been identified as an ordinary English word the meaning of which is to be determined by the jury. One definition that might be close to the meaning is -

Exertion or the use of exertion against a person (or thing).

Very little force is required, it can be just enough to put the victim off balance to enable property to be taken, or, it has been held, that the force required to pull a handbag from the grasp of someone who did not willingly let go, is sufficient. However, the purpose must be to enable a theft to take place.'

Whether robbery is committed will depend on the exact circumstances in each case and upon the amount of force used, if any. If force was required to take the item from the person, then robbery could be a consideration.

However, if the item appears to have simply been taken without requiring any force, it is more likely to be theft.

Please note the case of P v DPP 2012 , in which it was held that snatching a cigarette did not constitute 'force' required for an offence of robbery to be made out.

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