The Theft Act 1968 provides a legal definition of theft in England and Wales as “A person is guilty of theft if he dishonestly appropriates property belonging to another with the intention of permanently depriving the other of it; and “thief” and “steal” shall be construed accordingly”.
This definition increased the scope of “theft” considerably as far as insurers were concerned at the time, the acts of burglary and housebreaking having been previously defined in the Larceny Act 1916, but the new definition now brought in employee theft, shop-lifting and goods obtained by deception. It was not insurers intention to offer cover for these risks generally and policy wordings were amended to include the requirement of “vis et armis” or force and violence. This condition on a policy would, and does, take a form similar to ” visible signs of forcible and violent entry or exit from the premises”.
This requirement effectively removes shoplifting, deception and certainly pilferage in terms of employee theft.
The definition of the force and violence has been considered at law for over a 100 years, and the current position is that the force and violence need only be very minimal. Contrary to the belief of many at the time, the Appeal Court ruling in Dino Services Ltd v Prudential Assurance (1989) determined that the use of a key did not satisfy the requirement for force and violence albeit it was accepted that this was a use of force.
The presence of “entry or exit” does allow for the secretion of a person or persons during business hours of a premises providing that they “break out” at some point. This was, previous to much greater internal security, a common type of loss in shopping centres and market halls.
Many insurers will now provide, some as standard, theft cover without the requirement for forcible and violent entry or exit, although this is not commonplace, it certainly should be considered a positive enhancement to any cover.