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X Factor, animal sanctuaries and the Angel of the North - who said the law of involuntary bailment is dull?

View profile for Craig Walker
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In the recent case of Campbell – v – Redstone Mortgages Limited [2014] EWHC 3081 (Ch), the High Court considered the duties of mortgagees, landlords and others who find themselves in the position of involuntary bailee of goods left behind at a property after repossession.

The factual background to this case is perhaps one of the more unusual and bizarre in the normally somewhat dry area of repossession and involuntary bailment. Following default in mortgage repayments the Defendant mortgagee, Redstone, had taken possession of the Claimant borrower’s former home, which also operated as the Rainbow Ark Animal Sanctuary. After possession was eventually obtained – but not before the Claimant, Miss Campbell, in order to draw attention to the plight of the sanctuary, had chained herself to the Angel of the North and appeared on the X Factor (apparently gaining the support of Simon Cowell) – there were a large number of interlocutory hearings and temporary injunctions were granted to enable Miss Campbell to return and recover her possessions.  Miss Campbell sought guidance from the court in respect of her claim for damages against Redstone in relation to goods which had been left behind at the property following the execution of a warrant of possession.

In law, as mortgagee in possession the Defendant became an involuntary bailee of the goods which it eventually disposed of at a rubbish tip, after numerous notices and opportunities were given for their removal.  One of the issues for the court was to consider whether what the Defendant had done with the goods was right and reasonable.

Redstone’s obligation as involuntary bailee was to do what was right and reasonable in the circumstances of the case (an earlier case this year, Da Rocha-Afodu – v – Mortgage Express Limited [2014] EWCA Civ 454, was followed).  The court held that Miss Campbell’s tactic of leaving her goods at the property was deliberate and was designed to prevent Redstone from securing vacant possession and thus impeding its attempts to sell the property.  Despite three court orders affording access to Miss Campbell and others to remove their goods, she had failed to do so and had barricaded herself into the property.  That was a deliberate act in defiance of the court orders granting access and it was held that Redstone had made every attempt to facilitate the clearance of Miss Campbell’s goods and had in no way hindered or interfered with her right to collect them. The court decided that Redstone was justified in clearing the property and disposing of the goods.  In addition, the court decided that the goods were of no intrinsic value and in light of the substantial mortgage debt of over £700,000 it was appropriate that Redstone dispose of the goods, rather than putting them into storage or seeking to sell them.

The application of the “right and reasonable” test provides useful guidance in assessing the steps which an involuntary bailee should take when dealing with goods left at a property.  This case involved a mortgagee in possession, but the principles involved are equally applicable to landlords of commercial or residential premises. Ultimately, the matter will be judged on the facts of each case but so long as everything that is reasonable is done to facilitate the owner’s right to collect the goods and the bailee has otherwise acted fairly and reasonably, it should not then be liable in damages for the goods’ eventual disposal.

This guide is for general information and interest only and should not be relied upon as providing specific legal advice. If you require any further information about the issues raised in this article please contact the author or call 020 7404 0606 and ask to speak to your usual Goodman Derrick contact.