Destroying Abandoned Goods On Your Property


A recent case has examined when it may be considered safe for a person to destroy goods that have been abandoned on their own land or property.
The set for television’s ‘Robot Wars’ and related equipment was moved to the former RAF base at Newton in advance of the ‘Robot Wars World Championship’ that was due to take place in August 2004. Due to poor ticket sales the event was never held. The equipment was stored in a building on the site, which was then sold to a company, NNL, in January 2005.
NNL came across the equipment when they acquired the land. They cleared out the building and scrapped the set. The questions for the court were:
  • If, for example, a person bought a house and found a rusty bicycle in the back garden, would they be entitled to treat that as abandoned?
  • Alternatively, would the new owner have to contact the old owner to see whether they had simply forgotten to take it with them?
  • Would the answer be different if they had found a valuable piece of jewellery at the back of a cupboard?
The value of the ‘found’ property would be significant in deciding how long the new owner should wait before treating the property as having been abandoned. If the property was causing a hindrance to the purchaser then the timescale could be shortened. The Robot Wars set was unique and the owner, who brought the case, said that it was worth approximately £345,000 because of lost profits associated with its destruction.
There was, however, no evidence that the set would have been used again had it not been destroyed.
The judge concluded that the defendants:
  • had not proved that they were entitled to treat the set as abandoned initially;
  • having made enquiries and found no-one claiming the material for five weeks they were entitiled to believe it was of no interest to anyone so could not be held liable for 'conversion' (the civil version of theft); and
  • were not negligent in dealing with the goods.
Although there were conflicting reports over the removal of the equipment, the court decided that the new owners of Newton were not to blame for the loss. The case was dismissed.

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