Man's bitcoin millions in landfill


One Bitcoin

A frantic IT worker is hunting for a £4 million-plus digital fortune he inadvertently threw out with the rubbish.

James Howells, 28, would be a bitcoin multimillionaire if he could lay his hands on the computer hard drive containing his fortune.

But the digital cash is lost in a mountainous landfill site in Newport, south Wales where bin men took it after it was thrown out by mistake.

Mr Howells, of the city's Cromwell Street, started generating the previously almost-valueless electronic bitcoins on a website in January 2009.

When he stopped later that year, because his Dell laptop started to overheat, he had a digital wallet containing 7,500 of the worthless virtual currency.

When he later spilled drink on the unused computer he broke it up and sold off the parts, but made sure he put the vital hard drive aside in a drawer.

That was where it remained until this summer when it was inadvertently binned during a clear-out and disappeared to the Docksway landfill site.

"I kept the hard drive in a drawer in my office for three years without a second thought - totally forgot about bitcoin all together. I had been distracted by family life and moving house," he told BBC Wales online.

"Fast forward to 2013 which is when I had a clear-out of my old IT equipment. I hadn't used this drive for over three years, I believed I'd taken everything off it ... so it got thrown in the bin."

The hard drive was thrown out between mid-June and August, possibly somewhere around July, he believes.

Since then bitcoins have radically increased in value due to the original website's popularity and the fact companies around the world increasingly accept them as payment.

The value of a single bitcoin recently breached the 1,000 US dollar (£614) mark for the first time - almost five times what it was worth earlier in the month.

It means that Mr Howells's personal digital fortune would stand at around £4.6 million, if he could find it.

It has also meant that anyone with the currency, which cost almost nothing to "mine" in the first place, has been taking a second look at its value.

"I had been hearing a few stories of a chap from Norway who had bought a number of coins for a very low price and had sold them for a high price and that's when I got back into checking the price and seeing what I'd done," Mr Howells said.

"When I found out what the price was, the penny dropped and I realised the coins I have 'mined' were on the drive I had thrown away. There was not a lot I could do."

He checked all of his back-up files without success and ended up heading off to his local landfill site.

"When I went to the tip the manager took me up to the current landfill site and when I saw it - it's about the size of a football field - my first thought was 'no chance'," he said.

"The manager explained that things that were sent to landfill three or four months ago could be 3 to 5ft-deep. He confirmed my worst fears when he said that.

"He did mention that when people were investigating for evidence, they turn up with 15 to 20 people in full protective gear with diggers and dogs as well.

"The truth is I haven't got the funds or ability to make that happen at the moment without a definite pay cheque at the end of it."