Honesty doesn't pay: builder gets nothing after handing in £18k



Steven Fletcher, a builder who found a stash of almost £18,000 and handed it into police, has heard he will get no payback for his honesty.

Fletcher even went as far as the High Court to argue that the money should be his, but he failed to gain a penny.

The Leicester Mercury reported that Fletcher found the money back in September 2011, when he was working on a burned out property in King Street in Leicester. The money was all in £20 notes, wrapped in bundles of £1,000, and came to a total of £17,940. It had been saved from the fire by the fact it was in a metal box in a cupboard under the sink.

Fletcher handed the money into the police, who tried and failed to track down the owner. However, magistrates ordered that it be taken by the authorities under the Proceeds of Crime Act, as there was a strong likelihood that it was likely to be the result of criminal activity.

The Daily Mail reported that the decision was backed up by Leicester Crown Court, but Fletcher was not satisfied that there was any proof that the money had criminal origins, and took the case to the High Court. However, he lost, as the court concluded that the fact the money was in a single denomination, carefully sorted, and hidden meant it was likely to be the proceeds of crime.

The rules

Fletcher has every reason to feel aggrieved. Usually if you hand something into a police station, they will retain it for 28 days. If no-one comes forward to claim the item within that time, you are entitled to collect it yourself. In the vast majority of cases money is not reclaimed.

There are certain exceptions - including things like mobile phones and laptops which could contain personal information. In most cases these are destroyed after 28 days.

If any item or cash you hand in is found to be the proceeds of crime, it will be confiscated by the police. However, until this case, the level of proof required to establish that something was the proceeds of crime was untested. Clearly Fletcher's experience means that anyone finding large bundles of cash is unlikely to ever be allowed to keep them.

However, he may draw some comfort from the fact that he really had no choice over whether or not he handed the money in. If he had kept it for himself he would be guilty of 'theft by finding' and could be charged. And while it would be nice to be £18,000 richer, letting the cash go has to be better than risking prosecution.

But what do you think? Is this fair? Let us know in the comments.

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