From The Police (Property) Act 1897The applicant, who was represented by a solicitor, was a local car trader. He had been raided by the police who had taken away a dozen vehicles for further examination, suspecting them to be stolen. Things then went quiet, and a few months later, no police action having been taken, he applied to have the vehicles returned.
Where any property has come into the possession of the police in connexion [with their investigation of a suspected offence] . . . , a court of summary jurisdiction may, on application, either by an officer of police or by a claimant of the property, make an order for the delivery of the property to the person appearing to the magistrate or court to be the owner thereof, or, if the owner cannot be ascertained, make such order with respect to the property as to the magistrate or court may seem meet.
He was an engaging chap, and when invited to take the oath he apologised that he could not read, turning to me with a grin and saying "I can add up though". He claimed that he had bought the vehicles for cash, but had been a bit remiss with his paperwork.
In response we were shown police photographs, and there was undoubtedly something a bit dodgy going on, as every single engine and chassis number had been ground away, and a couple of vehicle ID plates had been crudely spot-welded into place.
To have a hope of hanging on to the property the police had to prove that it was stolen, and there they had a problem. In the absence of any chassis numbers they could not find any owners who had lost vehicles. When this dawned on them the best that they could do was to assign a traffic PC for one afternoon to try calling people from the phone book. Unsurprisingly he drew a blank.
The proceedings were civil ones, and we were obliged on the balance of probabilities to order the return of the property to Mr. Cheeky. We had to give him his lawyer's costs too. He gave me a cheery wave and a bright "Thanks Guvnor" as he left the courtroom.