When goods are stolen, the person who originally owned them is still the legal owner.
This page explains what you should do if you find you have bought stolen goods. It also explains what is meant by theft.
What are stolen goods and what is theft
Stolen goods are goods that are no longer with their rightful owner. In common law the definition of theft is that someone has taken and kept property without the consent of the rightful owner. In addition it must be clear that the person who took the property did so with the intention of depriving the person who is the rightful owner.
If the person who has taken the property knows that the rightful owner has not given permission for it to be used it may not be a crime unless the person then tries to sell it.
Who owns the stolen goods you have bought
If you buy stolen goods, the general rule is that you are not the legal owner even if you paid a fair price and didn’t know that the goods were stolen. The person who originally owned them is still the legal owner.
The only exception to the rule that you are not the legal owner is where stolen goods are insured, such as cars. When goods are insured, the goods would become the property of the insurance company after the real owner's claim had been paid.
What should you do if you’ve bought stolen goods
If you discover you’ve bought stolen goods you should stop using them immediately.
If you bought the goods before 1 October 2015
The law before this date didn't give you the automatic right to a refund but the seller might agree to give you your money back as a goodwill gesture.
If you bought the goods on or after 1 October 2015
When you bought goods and you discover they were stolen on or after the above date you have the legal right to get a full refund from the seller. This is because they didn't legally own it and had no right to sell it. You can claim your refund under the Consumer Rights Act 2015.
If you know who the rightful owner of the goods is
If you know who the legal owner of the goods is you should inform them that you have their goods and let them take them away. If you don’t give them back and the owner finds out you have them, the owner can apply for a court order to make you return the goods.
If you have spent money on improving or repairing the stolen goods, you may be able to claim compensation for the value of these improvements or repairs.
If you don’t know who the rightful owner of the goods is
You should tell the police who are likely to take the goods away.
Can you claim compensation from the person who sold you the stolen goods
If the stolen goods you bought are returned to the original owner, it is possible to take legal action for breach of contract for compensation against the person who sold the goods to you. This is because the law says that any seller of goods must have the right to sell those goods before they can legally sell them. If you bought the goods after 1 October 2015 you have the legal right to a refund.
You might have to check if it is worthwhile taking action to get compensation as a trader who is involved in selling stolen goods may be difficult to trace. It can also be a slow and expensive process.
You should always take independent advice before starting legal action.
Find out what is involved in taking someone to court
Have you committed a crime if you buy stolen goods
Handling stolen goods is a crime but you're unlikely to be arrested if you didn't know the goods you bought were stolen.
Tell the police as soon as you discover or suspect you've bought stolen goods. Stop using them. If you don't report it and you carry on using your goods, you could be arrested for handling stolen goods. This is called reset.