The New South Wales Police Force has established a dedicated unit to investigate and prosecute a new criminal craze that is said to have been sweeping through the Newcastle and Lake Macquarie area in recent weeks.
According to police, young thieves have been breaking into people’s homes – seemingly unconcerned as to whether anyone is their, filming their crimes and uploading the videos to social media.
Brazen break and enters
The CCTV system of one couple whose home was entered has reportedly filmed the culprits engaged in their conduct, while another is said to have caught the teens rummaging through their home as they watched a late-night football match.
Locals are angered and fearful to think that strangers, potentially armed and dangerous, are wandering around inside their houses while their families – including their children – may be present.
And while no one has been seriously injured so far, police feel the conduct may escalate into violence.
Special investigative unit
Strike Force Mackinnon was established this week, and police are now working their way through hours of potentially incriminating footage, with the alleged offences primarily posted to TikTok.
More than 30 crimes are said to have been identified by the end of the first day of the investigation, and police believe the detections will skyrocket – as copycats gather the bravado to conduct crimes of their own.
Police report that the majority of the crimes have been perpetrated by a core group of teenagers who are loosely connected, either through families, community groups, school or social media.
Andy Warhol once famously said that we would all one day have 15 minutes of fame. Social media has made that more achievable that ever – and, unfortunately, some have come to believe fame is easily achieved through criminal conduct, including that which violates the sanctity of the family home.
The power of social media
It seems there has come to be a form of unspoken competition between young people to see who can post the most horrific or shocking videos or photos to social media, with a view to ‘going viral’ in the shortest period of time.
TikTok’s core demographic is young and impressionable, and many could follow in the footsteps of those committing and publishing crimes without considering the consequences, or the impact upon their victims.
Towards the end of last year Queensland Police were dealing with a craze sweeping south-East Queensland – students vandalising school property and posting the videos to TikTok. Numerous schools were seriously damaged.
These types of crimes reignite the debate about the power of social media, and whether platforms should have much more oversight and responsibility for what type of content is posted by users. However, ironically, it is the posted video evidence that will most likely lead police to the perpetrators of these crimes. The internet has a long memory.
Break and enter offences in New South Wales
Breaking, entering and committing a serious indictable offence is a crime under section 112 of the Crimes Act 1900 which carries a maximum penalty of 14 years in prison
To establish the offence, the prosecution must prove beyond reasonable doubt that you:
- Broke into and entered a dwelling house or other building, and
- Committed a serious indictable offence while there.
What is a ‘break’?
The Act does not define ‘broke’ or ‘break’; but the courts have found it means to ‘forcibly gain entry’, and can include:
- Unlocking a door or window,
- Pushing open a closed but unlocked door,
- Opening a closed but unlocked window, and
- Raising a latch or loosening a fastening to secure entry.
The courts have found that it may not include:
- Walking through an open door, or
- Further opening a window that is already significantly ajar.
What is a ‘dwelling house’?
A ‘dwelling house’ is defined as:
- Any structure intended for occupation as a dwelling and capable of being so occupied, even if it has never been occupied
- A vehicle or boat in or on which a person resides, and
- Any structure that is ancillary to the dwelling.
What is a ‘serious indictable offence’?
A ‘serious indictable offence’ is one which carries a maximum penalty of at least 5 years in prison which includes stealing (also known as larceny).
The maximum penalty increases to 20 years in prison where the offence is committed in circumstances of aggravation, which is where you:
- Were armed with an offensive weapon or instrument,
- Were with at least one other person,
- Used corporal violence,
- Intentionally or recklessly inflicted actual bodily harm,
- Deprived a person of their liberty, or
- Knew there was at least one person in the dwelling.
‘Offensive weapon or instrument’ means:
- A dangerous weapon, or
- Anything made or adapted for offensive purposes, whether or not it is ordinarily used as a weapon or capable of causing harm.
Specially aggravated offence
The maximum increases to 25 years where you:
- Intentionally wounded or inflicted grievous bodily harm,
- Inflicted grievous bodily harm and were reckless as to causing actual bodily harm, or
- Were armed with a dangerous weapon.
A ‘dangerous weapon’ is defined as:
- A firearm or imitation firearm,
- A prohibited weapon, or
- A spear gun.
In the event that you raise evidence of a legal defence to a break and enter charge, the prosecution must disprove that defence beyond a reasonable doubt.
You are entitled to an acquittal (finding of not guilty) if the prosecution is unable to do this.
Legal defences to break and enter offences include:
- Necessity, and
- Having a claim of right over property, which means you genuinely believed you were legally entitled to the property.
Going to court?
If you have been accused of a break and enter offence and are going to court, call Sydney Criminal Lawyers anytime on (02) 9261 8881 for expert advice and formidable representation by our experienced team of specialist criminal defence lawyers.