Finders Keepers Losers Weepers
Everybody has heard the playground chant “finders keepers, losers weepers” but is it right? The answer is often no. The majority of people are not aware that under the Theft Act 1968 you can be charged with an offence which is commonly known as “theft by finding”. Theft is not limited to taking something belonging to someone else and keeping it. If you find something, such as a wallet, which you know would belong to somebody else, and you make no attempts to find its rightful owner and keep it, then you have committed a technical act of theft.
Earlier this year a “theft of finding” made the news. In February Nicole Bailey from Stoke on Trent found £20.00 in the One Stop store in Blurton. Mrs Nicole Bailey pocketed the money. The money had been dropped in the shop and the owner had rung the shop to see if it had been handed in. CCTV showed Nicole Bailey finding the money and keeping it. Nicole Bailey should have handed the money in to the shop keeper. Subsequently Nicole Bailey was contacted by the police and ultimately she was charged and convicted of theft.
Another example would be that in 2009 a husband and wife found a lottery ticket. It turned out to be a winning lottery ticket and they claimed the £30,000.00 prize. They received the money and had spent half of it before they were contacted by the police. They were subsequently convicted of theft as they had failed to hand the ticket in to Camelot. The real winner, who had mislaid the ticket, had made a claim and was able to prove when and where they had bought the ticket and that the ticket was theirs. The couple had to repay all of the money plus interest as well as receiving a criminal conviction.
A further common situation which we are all familiar with would be footballs coming over the garden fence. Not giving the ball back is technically theft. Whilst you have not taken the ball and it has landed uninvited into your garden, possibly even damaging your plants, if you do not give it back then you are depriving the owner of the ball and this would constitute theft.
If finders want to abide by the law then they need to think carefully about who owns the lost property. While the person who lost an item may no longer have physical possession of it, they still retain the legal entitlement to it. The onus is on the finder to take what the law describes as “reasonable steps” to track down the person who lost the item. This obviously depends on what you find and where you find it. If you found a pound coin in the street it would be almost impossible to find the owner, however, if you saw someone drop money and then you picked the money up without giving it back this would be theft. If you have handed in lost property to the police and it is not claimed, then you can claim ownership.
Mark obtained a Masters Degree in international commercial law and after working with the Treasury Solicitor’s Department and then a City firm he joined Bates Wells & Braithwaite in 1993.
He is the Managing Director and specialises in personal injury litigation. He is a member of the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers and formerly ran the East Anglian regional branch of APIL. He also acts as an executor and trustee where there is conflict among trusts and estates.
A former parish councillor and school governor, Mark spends most of his spare time in the local area though does often travel to Switzerland where his son lives.