Nicholas Atwell avoids jail for bus theft joyriding action

Nicholas Atwell avoids jail for bus theft joyriding action

Photo from the BBC


The criminal law is often full of strange characters. Sometimes people commit criminal acts which are hard to fathom. One such person is Nicholas Atwell. On 23rd July 2015 he escaped an immediate prison sentence for stealing a bus – not the first time he’s been up before the Courts for this.


Factual background

It seems that Mr Atwell, 54, has some strange obsession with buses. He has numerous previous convictions (over a hundred) many of which appear to be for stealing buses.

Earlier this year he was at it again. He took a double decker bus on a ride from Swanage to Yeovil, a journey of over 50 miles.

At the end he ‘broke into two commercial buildings’, but no further details of this are given.



Mr Atwell has been diagnosed with autism that may relate to this, which mitigated the penalty somewhat.

The Judge gave him one last chance, but warned him that if there was any further bus stealing then that would be it – he would be going to prison.

According to the BBC, the sentence was “a two-year suspended jail sentence.” This isn’t particularly helpful – is it two years imprisonment suspended for a period of time? Or a prison sentence that was suspended for two years?

We would guess that it is the latter – a period of time in prison, but suspended for 2 years.

There are Sentencing Guidelines for Theft, but we doubt that these would be of much use in this sort of case anyway as it is very much on its own facts.


What was the charge?

It was reported as ‘theft’. Which kind of makes sense on the face of it. However, these sorts of offences are often charged as ‘TWOC’ – Taking Without Consent, an offence contrary to s12 Theft Act 1968.

The reason for this is that for there to be a theft, there has to be an ‘intention to permanently deprive’ the other person of the object. This is often straightforward; if I nick your wallet, then I’m intending to keep the money and spend it.

But it can be problematic sometimes, with one such example being joyriding. If I take a car for a spin, then dump it, can it really be said that there is an ‘intention to permanently deprive’?

This is the reason for the TWOC offence. It’s potentially a complicated area of law, and in most cases the prosecution will play it safe and charge TWOC.

TWOC is actually a summary only offence, unless it is aggravated by something such as an accident that caused damage. It is one of those offences that can appear on an indictment however, so the fact that it was in the Crown Court does not mean that it was theft instead of TWOC.

So, what was the offence here? We don’t know. It may be that theft was the right charge, but it would be nice if the BBC made it clear in the report. As well as saying what the sentence actually was…


Dan is a barrister at 2 Dr. Johnson’s Buildings practising in crime.