Criminal Law: Fletcher -v- Chief Constable of Leicestershire Constabulary [2013] EWHC 3357

In March 2011 there was a fire at a flat in King Street in Leicester. The flat remained unoccupied after the fire. On 11 September 2011 the Appellant set about repairing the flat in the course of his business and in the course of the refurbishment he found a metal box hidden in the kitchen under a kitchen unit. Inside the box was a sum of £17,940.00, all in £20.00 notes, all neatly bundled into £1,000.00 bundles bound with elastic bands. The Appellant is an honest man and he took the find, as any honest person would, to the Police.

The Respondent considered that the money was the result of unlawful criminal conduct and applied to the Magistrates’ Court for an order pursuant to the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002s.298 forfeiting the sum. The Magistrates’ Court made the order. The Appellant appealed against the forfeiture order to the Crown Court. Mr Recorder Readings, sitting with two Magistrates, dismissed the appeal and granted the Respondent an order forfeiting the money. The Crown Court stated a case for the consideration of the High Court.

In dismissing the appeal Lewis J held that:

1. That it was permissible for the Court to find (from the fact and circumstances of the hiding) that the money had been obtained by unlawful conduct of some unspecified kind;

2. It was permissible for the Court to find that the hider never abandoned his intention to recover the money and instead intended, at all material times, to spend the money at some time in the future;

3. It was permissible to grant forfeiture on the basis that the hider intended the money be used in unlawful conduct because any plausible use of the money by the hider would amount to unlawful conduct; and

4. In the case of money hidden by an unknown person and obtained by unspecified unlawful conduct and found by an innocent finder and handed to the Police, the intention of the hider at the relevant time to retrieve the money and use it is sufficient to justify forfeiture under s.298(2)(b) when the innocent finder has no intention to use the money for unlawful purposes.