The Laws On Finding Lost Money & Buried Treasure:

What would you do if you discovered a bag of money in the street? Try to hide it under your jacket & hope no-one else saw you, take it to the nearest police station, or just put it back wherever it was, perhaps next to a letter-box or lamp-post or on a pavement bench? As the Sun journalist, Gemma Mullin, pointed out on 2nd March, that was a decision an employee of the Cordant company had to make when she found £300,000 in a brown envelope while she was cleaning a London bus. She handed the money to the police, though the Sunday Times observed on 3rd March that it wasn’t yet clear whether she would be rewarded for her honesty.

The temptation to keep mislaid cash and use it to pay off debts, go on holiday or share it with friends is perhaps understandable in this era of austerity and restricted finances – but, in the opinion of Mullin’s colleague on the newspaper, Sarah Barns, “You should never pick up money someone’s dropped on the floor”. If it’s a substantial amount, doing so may be particularly inadvisable, as it could represent the proceeds from illegal activities. Whoever it “belongs to” will undoubtedly look for whoever has taken possession of it. That was the scenario in episode two of the BBC TV’s current Sunday evening fictional drama, “Baptiste”, in which a criminal gang based in Amsterdam, Holland, was determined to recover the million euros which had been stolen from them.

When a bag of £20,000 in cash, consisting of £20 and £10 notes tied together by red rubber bands, was discovered by the West Mercia constabulary in Telford, Shropshire, it was never reclaimed, reported the Birmingham Mail columnist, Mike Lockley, because it was drug money and had been “flung from a car amid fears it was being pursued by the police”.

The case of Nicola Bailey, a 23-year-old woman from Blurton, Stoke-on -Trent with no previous convictions, has attracted particular media attention. She was filmed on CCTV picking up £20 from a floor in a local shop. It emerged later that it had been accidentally dropped by a man who’d recently withdrawn it from a cash machine. Bailey was prosecuted and was ordered to pay £20 in compensation, a £20 victim surcharge and £135 in court costs – equalling a total sum, noted the BBC News correspondent, Alex Homer, which was more than eight times as much as she’d pocketed.

Finders Keepers, Losers Weepers”, commented Homer, is an old adage that these days doesn’t actually stand up to legal scrutiny. He quoted the view of Professor Robert Chambers, an expert in private law at King’s College, London, that if you are in the street, you could reasonably believe you don’t have a chance of finding the person who lost what you found, whereas if you find a lost object in a shop it may not be so difficult to find the person who mislaid it.

According to the Theft Act 1968, a person is guilty of theft if they “dishonestly appropriate property belonging to another with the intention of permanently depriving the other of it”. However, a person’s appropriation of property belonging to another is not to be regarded as dishonest if they do so in the belief that the person to whom the property belongs cannot be discovered by taking reasonable steps.

The definition of what constitutes “sufficient effort”, declares Professor Chambers, varies according to the location where the discovery is made. Furthermore, “if you make a reasonable attempt to find the person who lost it and they don’t come forward, you can keep it with a clear conscience”. Lost property, so Daniel Wise, an associate solicitor with the Slater Heelis law firm, informed the Metro contributor Ashitha Nagesh, continues to belong to another unless it has genuinely been abandoned by the owner: “The fact that cash has been dropped in the street doesn’t necessarily mean it has been abandoned”.

Meanwhile, the rules regarding looking for buried treasure are governed by The Treasure Act 1997, since when the number of reported treasure finds – sometimes worth in excess of £1 million – has grown every year. The Daily Telegraph’s Laura Silverman has cited estimates that there are now 10,000 treasure hunters in the UK with metal detectors. They are, states BBC News, searching mainly for coins that are older than 300 years and other objects which contain at least 10% gold or silver and are also at least 300 years old.

If they do find any of these, they are legally obliged to report it to their local police within 14 days, otherwise they risk a heavy fine or three months in prison. A coroner and the Treasure Valuation Committee will then assess its worth in order to determine how much should be paid to the finder by a museum if it wants to acquire it.

Eligibility for a reward is based on whether the finder is themselves the owner of the land or had the agreement of the tenant or freeholder to be there. As has emphasised “Whether it’s a public park, a friend’s back garden or the local beach, all land belongs to someone. Not asking for permission before you start metal detecting could see you getting charged with trespassing or may affect any reward if you’re lucky enough to find something”.

Filed under: Society | Posted on March 12th, 2019 by Colin D Gordon

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