Here at UK Criminal Law Blog, we are always up for a challenge. So when Andrew Keogh tweeted this, we couldn’t resist
The news story is here. Basically, last year Banksy did a mural on a Poundland Shop outside wall in North London. A short while afterwards, it disappeared. Actually, an unidentified individual came along and chipped it away under cover of scaffolding. It’s now appeared at an auction in America (and is expected to go for several hundred thousands of pounds).
The (unnamed) owners of the building have not confirmed yet whether it was their doing. But, assuming that they own the building and the mural, and they did not authorise the mural’s removal, what criminal offences have been committed?
Theft and Criminal Damage
This is the obvious one. An overview of theft is here. The wall is clearly property belonging to another and taking it away is a theft. For this reason, it would seem that they would also be guilty of criminal damage (by damaging part of the wall). Banksy, of course, would also have been guilty of criminal damage when he made the mural (but given the added value, I doubt anyone would complain). For an interesting case that looks at this see DPP v J  EWHC 291 (Admin).
We’ve covered what burglary is here. This requires an ‘entry’ into the building (as every law student knows – see the case of Collins – the naked burglar). But what about taking part of the wall away – is that an entry? Probably not, as there is no actual entrance to the building.
Offering to sell a mural that had been stolen whilst claiming to have good title to it, would be an offence under the Fraud Act. The fact that part of the fraud (the sale) would be carried out in America is not a bar to a prosecution (provided that there was an ‘occurence’ in England – see Part I Criminal Justice Act 1993 for more details).
Handling Stolen Goods
If the mural has been stolen, then anyone who knowingly took the mural, even if they were part of a chain, would be guilty of Handling Stolen Goods.
As the thief went off to the shop, armed with tools to take the mural, they would be guilty of the offence of Going Equipped.
Another offence, that is not commonly seen, is ‘Removal of Articles’ contrary to s11 Theft Act 1968. This reads as follows:
“where the public have access to a building in order to view the building or part of it, or a collection or part of a collection housed in it, any person who without lawful authority removes from the building or its grounds the whole or part of any article displayed or kept for display to the public in the building or that part of it or in its grounds shall be guilty of an offence”
This has a maximum sentence of 5 years. The only case that we are aware of dealing with this is Durkin (1973) 57 Cr App R 637.
This is the Prosecutor’s friend. In a case such as this, with many people involved in the whole ‘caper’, it may be that a conspiracy charge would be expected.