Practice and Procedure


PUBLISHED February 19, 2003

The police were entitled to deliver possession of a car seized to a garage for the purposes of safe custody, and such a transfer did not constitute conversion.Claimant's ('M') appeal from the order of HH Judge Nicholl on 29 May 2002 to dismiss his claim for damages for wrongful retention by the respondent of his car in 1990. M had bought the car that was subsequently retained by police in 1990, and sold it. The car was then subsequently obtained by other individuals and two garages ('C' and 'W'). W advertised the car for sale and M took possession of it using a spare set of keys. W reported that the car had been stolen to the police, and M reported that he had taken the car and claimed the right to it. M was charged with theft, but on subsequent investigations the officer in the case reached the conclusion that it was unlikely that M had stolen the car and the prosecution was discontinued. The police seized the car and passed possession onto W on a form of indemnity by which W acknowledged that the car was released on the condition that W did not sell or dispose of it without court order or police authority. M sought the release of the car, and previous owners issued proceedings in which they claimed to be the owners of the car. The respondent commenced inter-pleader proceedings in relation to the car. M's claims against the respondent for, among others, wrongful retention of his car, were dismissed, and on appeal, the matter was remitted to the judge. New statements of case were served, in which M sought damages for the retention of his car. The judge held that giving the car to W to keep in safe custody did not constitute conversion, and that the cause of action for conversion did not accrue until the date of the demand for its return had been made. M argued as follows: (i) in transferring possession of the car to W there had been a conversion by the police as the terms of the indemnity did not stipulate that the release had been for safe keeping, did not prevent W from driving the car, and was adverse to M's interests, and that the release was in breach of the respondents powers under Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984; and (ii) in the event that the officer in the case had concluded that it was unlikely that M had stolen the car, the power to retain the car in order to establish ownership of the vehicle on the basis of reasonable grounds of belief that it had been obtained in consequence of the commission of an offence no longer applied.HELD: (1) This was not a case in which it could be alleged that the acts of W constituted conversion as the case was not pleaded on that basis. Nor could it constitute a conversion that the release had been contrary to the wishes of the officer in the case. Neither did it matter that the indemnity obtained by police was not more comprehensive. The respondent was entitled to deliver possession of the car to W for the purposes of safe custody, and such a transfer did not constitute conversion. (2) It did not necessarily follow from the officer's opinion that M was not a thief that M was the owner of the car. There was a dispute as to the ownership of the car, and it was clear that the power to retain the car existed at least until M's demand for return of the car.Appeal dismissed.