Theft by Keeping?

1st April 2018 — 14 Comments

Last week I made a Tweet from the UK Daily Mirror newspaper in which they asked if you could legally keep money, jewellery or lottery tickets you might discover on the street. “Does the adage of ‘finders keepers, losers weepers’ actually stand up in court?” they asked.

Picture by JW

After reading the article (click on link above if you haven’t already done so), you will see that the catalyst for this report was Nicole Bailey who last year wound up in court after picking up £20 on the floor of an convenience store. Read the story and how much she was fined HERE.

The definition of theft – “the dishonest appropriation of property belonging to another with the intention of permanently depriving the other of it”, could has some relevance to the hobby. In my experience detectorists go to extreme lengths to reunite people or their descendants with their property. I have written many stories where this has happened, but it’s not always easy. Dog tags and relatively modern jewellery with inscriptions are easier items than most.

After reading my Tweet, Irish detectorist Adrian McStraw contacted me and said:


“I have in the past found money on the street and pocketed it but that was because I had know way of identifying who lost it. If I find it in a shop I hand it over.

I lost my wallet in a shop in Derry and was contacted by the assistant as they had checked my wallet and found one of my business cards. There was a considerable amount of cash in it as I was on a weekend break in Donegal. I left a gift for the person who handed it in to the shop assistant. I’m a strong believer in what you give you will gain in return. Here’s what I did when I found a gold watch. If it doesn’t belong to you its not yours to keep.”


With joint finder Gavin McMahon, Adrian’s ‘gold watch’ story appeared in the 2017 February 6th edition of the Portadown Times. The owner of the watch was the rector of St. Mark’s church in Portadown and the  watch was eventually returned to his grandson. You can read about it by clicking HERE.

Adrian said he and Gavin had got a ‘real buzz’ not just from unearthing the watch, but from returning it to the family. He added, “We have turned up all sorts of things over the years and always ask farmers’ permission to go on their land.”I know a couple of beach detectorists who always declare jewellery (especially) if found on the beach. In addition they also post on social media in search of the owner. If unclaimed after a certain time, the item becomes the finders. I think you must be seen to make all reasonable efforts to find the original owner. It’s wiser to be cautious and careful than to be hasty or rash and so do something you may later regret.


Acts of kindness are performed on a regular basis by detectorists everywhere.


A couple of my recent posts on the same theme … returning items to the rightful owners:

A RING …  the 1914 MEDAL … and a rather special WATCH


Please remember how we are perceived by the pernicious Polish blogger, the arrogant Paul Barford who refers to all detectorists as “smug-arsed twits, two-faced slimeballs, gawping proles, hoikers, heritage pilferers, metal detecting half-brains, thugwits, planks, weak-minded plebs and shallow-brain dullards … amongst other derogatory terms. 


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14 responses to Theft by Keeping?

  1. I wish that there was more to the story John.. It looks as though it was found in a store,, and if so, then had I found it, I probably would have turned it in.

    However, if it was on the street.. probably not.

    It is a complex story with no suitable resolution. From a Canuck [well mine anyway] point of view, it looks a little like Big Brother has eyes and ears everywhere.. Too much so for this lad


  2. only just yesterday I found a modern ring with a 1890 hall mark in the middle of a Wiltshire field .. …at present its in my display case ..

  3. Who was it said “all property is theft, therefore all theft is property”? I guess Nicole Bailey wasn’t a detectorist! Mind you, I also guess /some/ of the adjectives of the ‘pPbPB’ might just apply to the odd detectorist… Alas I’ve never had the pleasure, yet, of finding anything detecting to be researched and returned… Thanks again John! Cheers!

  4. I walk up to the main street at 5.00am every morning to buy the paper, do a lap of the street and go home.In 2010 I started keeping count of the money I find. So far I am up to $1300.00 in change and the odd note, all of which I have kept for myself. I have found 7 wallets and six telephones, all of which I have returned to the owners. One wallet had $550.00 in it and the owner didn’t even know he had lost it. As far as detecting, I found a ring with an inscription on it and managed to return it to the girl who owned it. Her then boyfriend ( Now her husband) had lost it 32 years prior to me finding it.

  5. John from Ontario (AKA Geobound) 1st April 2018 at 10:55 PM

    John I’ve always thought myself of being a very honest person, but I probably wouldn’t have thought anything about finding money on the floor inside of a store.

    If it were in a wallet or purse, or several big bills, then yes I would turn it in……..but a single note?

    I’ve chased people down who have left money in the cash point to give it back to them, or ran after somebody who dropped their keys and never noticed, but never in a store.

    There is something to be said about doing the right thing and handing it in to a store employee, but I worked in retail when I was in my late teens………the money seldom makes it further than the person you handed it to.

    Lottery tickets on the other hand are a completely different thing, and the owner can be tracked down.

    I actually feel bad for Nicole.

  6. John from Ontario (AKA Geobound) 1st April 2018 at 10:56 PM

    By the way………I like the new colour scheme!

  7. That was a tough lesson to learn for Nicole since it cost her far more in the long run than the 20 pounds she pocketed. As far as other lost items go I believe that people do not intentionally lose items, such as wallets, and therefore every effort should be made to return those items to the rightful owner. Jewelry is a different matter. Inscriptions help but an accurate description, or a photo of it on the individual would help to authenticate the owner. I had successfully returned a university graduation ring a year ago to a young woman who had lost it in 2001 because she was able to describe its appearance and what was inscribed on the underside of the ring.


  8. i agree every effort should be made to return a lost item. i have used lost and found on Kijiji, alumni sites and various other lost and found venues.

    I do advertise free services for finding items and have hobby cards made saying the same. I do not charge and use this as a door opener. Never know when a contact knows a land owner or has some info that may led to a dig.

    Interesting take on a topic Sir John of the UK from Digalot!

  9. Oh dear! Look at the machinations behind the introduction of the ’96 Treasure Act. Look closely at why it was steamrollered through parliament. It was a Money Bill. Corruption? You betcha!

  10. I found a wallet in the road nearby containing £10 note,provisional licence & membership card for local gym. I sent him a letter so that he could collect it and when he did he came with his mate & more or less accused me of knicking it. He snatched it out of hand and never even said thank you or re-imbursed me for the stamp so I was out of pocket. Never again.

  11. we are in a unique position in that we will encounter more lost property than most,,,
    we need to always set the right example, if its not recordable under PAS/TT and is valuable with a chance of tracing the rightful owner then we should do the right thing every time.

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