£164M Bitcoin Lost in Landfill Sparks Lawsuit Against Council

James Howells is forced to take the legal route following a decade-long battle to recover a lost Bitcoin hard drive.

Lawyer points out the location of something for the digger driver on a landfill.
Created by Gabor Kovacs from DailyCoin
  • James Howells had amassed a Bitcoin fortune mining on his gaming laptop.
  • Newport Council has refused site access to recover a hard drive for over a decade.  
  • Access refusal was made on the grounds of adhering to local laws.

With cryptocurrency’s growing popularity and value, the number of irretrievably lost coins each year also rises. Estimates put the amount of stranded Bitcoin at around 20% of the existing supply, amounting to billions of dollars in marooned value.

Among those grappling with accidental crypto loss is former IT engineer James Howells, whose story encapsulates the anguish those unfortunate enough to be in this situation face. In 2013, Howells mistakenly threw away a hard drive containing 8,000 mined Bitcoin worth over £164 million (US$205 million).

After repeated unsuccessful petitions since 2013 to excavate the landfill site where the hard drive was discarded, a frustrated Howells has resorted to legal action against Newport Council to recover the storage device. 

Bitcoin Worth $500 Million Buried

In a letter to Newport Council, Howells’ legal advisors demanded landfill access be granted for recovery works by September 18, according to the Telegraph. Howells is also preparing for a legal battle to claim £446 million (US$558.7 million) in damages due to the council’s repeated refusals to grant access to the landfill.

Spurred by the perceived injustice of the situation, the ex-IT engineer also seeks a judicial review of the council’s decision and intends to stop other works at the site to preserve his excavation efforts. Howells expressed frustration over being forced to take the legal route due to the council refusing to “play ball.”

“There’s $500m sitting in the ground and they won’t even have a serious conversation about it. It doesn’t matter what that item is, whether it is Bitcoin, gold, diamonds, to not even have the conversation is idiotic,” a frustrated Howells expressed.

With the case coming into the spotlight, many are wondering how the situation came to pass with such huge sums on the line.

Thrown Hard Drive

Corporations with deep pockets now dominate the ultra-competitive Bitcoin mining landscape, but it was perfectly possible to mine BTC at home using a standard laptop in the early days. 

Howells was an early Bitcoin adopter, often using his gaming laptop overnight to mine BTC, which amassed him the 8,000 coin fortune. After spilling a drink and destroying the mining laptop in 2009, the former IT engineer copied the hard drive’s contents to his new iMac but did not bother with the Bitcoin folder, as there was no Apple wallet version then.

During a home office clear-out five years later, he threw away the Bitcoin wallet’s hard drive after mistakenly believing it was empty. It wasn’t until Howells caught a news story about a Norwegian man selling BTC to buy an apartment that he realized his catastrophic error. Howells has since engaged in a seemingly never-ending chase to fix his mistake.

Howells Won’t Give Up

Fast forward to today, Howells has persisted in trying to recover the lost hard drive. To persuade Newport Council to grant site access, Howells has offered to make community donations and cover the excavation cost, estimated to range between $6 – $11 million. 

The former IT engineer further proposed using AI-powered sorting to sift through the waste efficiently, as well as assembling a 16-person recovery team, including data recovery experts and the site’s retired former manager. 

Newport Council has refused to budge on the basis that the hard drive may or may not be in their landfill site. A council spokesperson explained that the excavation works proposed by Howells do not conform with its environmental permit. Moreover, the council argues that granting Howells’ request would open the surrounding area to negative environmental impact.

On the Flipside

  • After years of exposure to landfill conditions, there is no guarantee that the hard drive’s contents will remain intact, even if located.
  • Howells’ case demonstrates the serious psychological effects of misplaced Bitcoin fortunes.

Why This Matters

When the hard drive was discarded in 2013, Bitcoin traded at around $13 – valuing Howells’ loss at just over $100,000 then, a fraction of the £164 million they are worth today. With Bitcoin’s continued rise, the value of Howells’ stranded coins seems destined to climb higher each year, emphasizing the importance of well-managed crypto storage.

Read more on Salvadorians favoring cash over Bitcoin here:
Bitcoin Not King: Salvadorians Still Prefer Cash

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This article is for information purposes only and should not be considered trading or investment advice. Nothing herein shall be construed as financial, legal, or tax advice. Trading forex, cryptocurrencies, and CFDs pose a considerable risk of loss.

Samuel Wan

Samuel Wan is a finance professional turned crypto journalist, known for his insightful reporting on market trends, regulatory changes, and technological developments within the digital asset industry. His ability to simplify complex concepts and report the facts has made him a trusted source in the crypto community. Beyond his writing, Samuel is an active mountain biker and gamer.