CUT-PURSE, pillager, robber, bandit, burglar, chiseler, pickpocket, thief, rustler – there are dozens of words for people who steal and defraud, writes columnist Alison Eden.

That’s because taking something that doesn’t belong to you is a crime that is as old as recorded time whether the theft is of a country, a person, a wallet or a sheep.

The theft of the RNLI’s quad-bike from their garage in Teignmouth recently may be ‘just’ another example of a divisive anti-social behaviour but it comes at a time when across the UK nicking something and organised lawlessness via social media seems on the rise. It’s likely the quad-bike was stolen to order – these bikes can cost £10,000 new and had it been a ‘joyride’ theft there would be plenty of evidence on CCTV.

People who are desperate for money, for whatever reason, are not going to think ‘oh but this RNLI quad bike saves lives I’ll leave it here’.

The arrival of mobs in London’s Oxford Street last week illustrates how adherence to community rules of conduct is extremely vulnerable to breaking down in certain situations.

Two brave policeman waving batons can do little to stop even a small group of people intent on trouble. Department stores dropped their shutters, imprisoning shoppers inside and while the thought of being trapped in, say, Selfridges food hall has its attractions, the possibility of what’s going on outside in these situations should concern us all.

Thank goodness that people in the UK can’t legally arm themselves with guns. But should more of our police?

It’s human nature to loot. Not that this makes it ok! Looting is a common reaction the world over when there are no physical barriers to just ‘helping yourself’. There are people who would never behave criminally initially themselves but once the opportunity is there, they take it. I shocked myself once in a dept store in Oxford called Boswells when the lights went out suddenly.

I was holding a pack of Bromley lemon soap and standing in the dark found myself thinking – ‘nobody would know if I slipped that in my bag’.

I didn’t, of course, but I do wonder if any of the other ladies handling soap that day had that thrill of ‘I might get away with this’. A tiny minority of people, and interestingly the figures suggest it is more typically women, have a constant urge to steal things they don’t need and can easily afford.

An obsessive impulse to steal in this way may be due to a rare condition called kleptomania. There is help available and nobody should feel shame about asking for support from their GP for this or any other compulsive mental health problem. Suella Braverman, the Home Secretary, used violent language to convey her reaction to the mob violence in London saying that those responsible should be ‘hunted down and locked up’.

This ‘treat them like animals and throw away the key’ attitude may appeal to some voters but it manifestly doesn’t work to stop crime.

Prison, surely, is supposed to rehabilitate. Anyway, last time I checked, our prisons were over-crowded so maybe the government should build some new ones. I note that Ms Braverman is selective with her language and does not talk about ‘hunting’ down billionaire tax avoiders.

Maybe if we had more money from taxation to spend on public services, we could build back a stronger, safer community.