MARK SAINSBURY: When is it OK to steal something?

When is it alright to steal?

And before you say never - if your baby was starving would it be alright to steal food? If you found cash in the street would you keep it - or hand it into the police?

Is there a situation when the circumstances dictate that it’s OK to take something that isn’t yours?

Take quake-hit Kaikoura in November, when all the main roads leading in and out were cut off.

Usual services were not operating and a guy called Ricky Clark finds an abandoned train, trapped on the tracks between two landslides, and helps himself to some of the contents to get supplies for his family. He says he wasn’t the first to do so after the local supermarket was forced to turn customers away because of empty shelves.

We’re not talking about looting such as breaking a window at Harvey Norman and running off with a TV.

Ricky Clark and his mate helped themselves to the train which was carrying supplies for Countdown and Cookie Time.

Police said Garrett took two frying pans and some baby formula from the train, while Clark took items worth $2600, including tools, Christmas cookies and a 50cc minibike.
They then headed back to Clark’s house - where they had an attack of the guilts and decided to return their haul.

His mate, Angus Garrett, was heading back with the loot when he saw a cop and fessed up. Both he and Clark ended up in court, but this week they were discharged without conviction.

My question is: is what they did wrong? Technically they broke the law obviously.

But you’re in the middle of a Civil Defence emergency, you don’t know where your next meal is coming from and a train that’s going nowhere is stranded nearby. Would you help yourself?

Let’s test this further. You walk into a Farmers department store and while strolling around you see a $50 note on the ground.

What would you do? Hand it in? Yell out asking if anyone has lost it? Or pocket it yourself?

What if it was a $20 note? Does the denomination make a difference - or is the principle unchanged? What’s the tipping point?

A woman in the Midlands recently found a 20 quid note in a shop. She looked around - there was no one nearby who could have lost it … so she pocketed it.

But the person who lost the money figured out where he left it and returned - and it was gone. CCTV footage identified the woman - and she was convicted in court for it.

Is this opportunism? Or is it theft?

I suppose it depends on whether you think the law is black or white - or is there room for some shades of grey?

Mark Sainsbury hosts Morning Talk from 9am-midday on RadioLIVE.