one of the more amusing judgments i’ve read in a while

On November 15, 1978, the plaintiff, Alan George Parker, had a date with fate – and perhaps with legal immortality. He found himself in the international executive lounge at terminal one, Heathrow Airport. and that was not all that he found. He also found a gold bracelet lying on the floor.

We know very little about the plaintiff, and it would be nice to know more. He was lawfully in the lounge and, as events showed, he was an honest man. Clearly he had not forgotten the schoolboy maxim “Finders keepers.” But, equally clearly, he was well aware of the adult qualification “unless the true owner claims the article.” He had had to clear customs and security to reach the lounge. He was almost certainly an outgoing passenger because the defendants, British Airways Board, as lessees of the lounge from the British Airports Authority and its occupiers, limit its use to passengers who hold first class tickets or boarding passes or who are members of their Executive Club. which is a passengers’ “club.” Perhaps the plaintiff’s flight had just been called and he was pressed for time. Perhaps the only officials in sight were employees of the defendants. Whatever the reason, he gave the bracelet to an anonymous official of the defendants instead of to the police. He also gave the official a note of his name and address and asked for the bracelet to be returned to him if it was not claimed by the owner. The official handed the bracelet to the lost property department of the defendants.

Thus far the story is unremarkable. The plaintiff, the defendants’ official and the defendants themselves had all acted as one would have hoped and expected them to act. Thereafter matters took what, to the plaintiff, was an unexpected turn. Although the owner never claimed the bracelet, the defendants did not return it to the plaintiff. Instead they sold it and kept the proceeds which amounted to £850. The plaintiff discovered what had happened and was more than a little annoyed. I can understand his annoyance. He sued the defendants in the Brentford County Court and was awarded £850 as damages and £50 as interest. The defendants now appeal.

It is astonishing that there should be any doubt as to who is right. But there is. Indeed, it seems that the academics have been debating this problem for years. In 1971 the Law Reform Committee reported that it was by no means clear who had the better claim to lost property when the protagonists were the finder and the occupier of the premises where the property was found. Whatever else may be in doubt, the committee was abundantly right in this conclusion. The committee recommended legislative action but, as is not uncommon, nothing has been done. The rights of the parties thus depend upon the common law. …

– Donaldson LJ, introduction to the Court of Appeal judgment in Parker v British Airways Board [1981]

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