The case of the "ownerless" vehicle.

The Claimant's vehicle was stolen and abandoned by the thieves in the street. The local authority (my client) was contacted by the police and recovered the vehicle to their recovery agent's yard. The Claimant had only recently purchased the vehicle and it was not yet registered in his name at DVLC. The local authority attempted to contact the registered keeper who could not be found.

The Claimant, by coincidence, saw his vehicle in the recovery agent's yard. He telephoned the local authority who indicated that they would release the vehicle to its owner on payment of a fee, otherwise it might be destroyed. The Claimant was not happy about paying a fee but insisted that the local authority did not destroy the vehicle.

The local authority destroyed the vehicle and, when sued by the Claimant, the court held that the destruction was lawful under the relevant refuse disposal regulations for the simple reason that the local authority had not decided who was the owner.

(note: the decision in this case depended upon a distinction between duty and discretion on the part of the local authority)