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What is aggravated burglary?

Aggravated burglary is a criminal offence set out in section 10 of the Theft Act 1968. It's more severe than ordinary burglary because it means that some kind of firearm, imitation firearm, "weapon of offence" or explosive has been involved.

A person can be found guilty of aggravated burglary if they commit burglary with an offensive weapon in their possession. For a defendant to be found guilty, the prosecution must initially prove the basic burglary offence.

Establishing that a burglary took place

Burglary is an offence under section 9 of the 1968 Theft Act. It is committed when an individual enters any building (or part of a building) as a trespasser with the intention of stealing, inflicting grievous bodily harm (GBH) or committing unlawful damage. To demonstrate that a burglary took place, the following must be established:

  • The defendant entered the building;
  • That it is a building or part of a building;
  • The defendant did so as a trespasser;
  • They did so with the intention of stealing or inflicting GBH (etc).

A person doesn't necessarily need to successfully carry out the offence involving theft, assault or property damage to satisfy that a burglary took place. Yet, it must have been their intention to do so at the time of entering the building.

"Burglary" doesn't always mean theft has occurred

In news stories or reports about crimes involving money or property being taken, "theft", "burglary" and "robbery" are the three main terms used, often interchangeably. That said, "burglary" does not always involve stealing. The intention of theft is, however, critical in differentiating burglary from trespassing.

Considering the 'aggravating' features

Only once the offence of burglary has been established can the aggravating elements be considered. Prosecutors can then look to prove that the defendant possessed a weapon of offence, a firearm or an explosive at the time of the burglary - making it an aggravated offence.

An offensive weapon can be any article made or adapted for use for causing injury to, or incapacitating a person, or intended by the person having it with him/her for such use. Explosive means an article made to produce an effect by explosion or intended by the person for having it with him/her for that use. Imitation firearms and explosives are also classed as offensive weapons. Whether or not the article is capable of being discharged is redundant - the only issue is whether it has the appearance of a firearm or explosive.

In any case, the aggravating element will only be reached if the accused knew that he or she had the article with him or her at the time, or knew that the item was available for use.

Examples of offensive weapons

  • Articles made with the intent of causing harm or injury to another, such as a knife, pepper spray or knuckle duster.
  • Items adapted to cause harm; one that has been changed or altered from its original state, such as a snooker ball in a sock or a broken bottle.
  • Articles carried intending to cause harm or injury to another. An example of this is a bottle filled with a corrosive substance (such as bleach or ammonia) carried with the intent of throwing it into someone's face.

Establishing the defendant had the offensive weapon "with them"

As discussed, to prove the offence of aggravated burglary, prosecutors must establish that the defendant had the offensive weapon with them, or had it at the time of the burglary. In most cases, the expression "with them" means that the defendant was carrying the weapon. That said, in the case of R v Kelt (1977), numerous individuals entered a building for criminal purposes while the defendant remained outside, where he was in possession of a scaffolding pipe, which was used to break a window. It was established that as the defendant had not entered the building, he was only guilty of burglary and not aggravated burglary.

Offence categories and sentencing

Sentences for aggravated burglary can vary considerably; however, it is a serious charge and is triable upon indictment in the Crown Court, while the maximum penalty is life imprisonment.

There remains a great deal of debate regarding the 'leniency' of sentences for burglary and aggravated burglary in the UK; however, the sentencing guidelines were updated in 2012, consequently increasing the likelihood of a custodial sentence being given. The court considers several factors, however, in most cases involving the use of weapons, a prison sentence is the most likely outcome. Below is a general overview of the sentencing guidelines, clearly showing the severity of aggravated burglary in comparison to non-domestic and domestic burglary.

Non-domestic burglary - Maximum when tried summarily: Level 5 fine and/or 6 months custody. Maximum when tried on indictment: 10 years custody

Domestic Burglary - Maximum when tried summarily: Level 5 fine and/or 6 months custody. Maximum when tried on indictment: 14 years' custody

Aggravated Burglary - Maximum: Life imprisonment

Defending robbery and burglary offences

If you are charged with burglary or aggravated burglary, there is a real risk of a prison sentence, so it's essential to speak to one of our expert solicitors at the earliest opportunity. Noble Solicitors can examine the evidence and prepare your best possible defence. We will work closely with you to understand your unique circumstances, representing you throughout court proceedings. If you'd like to learn more about our experience or wish to discuss your charges with a member of our team today, please call 07000 81 82 83.

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