Wednesday, 4 Aug 2021

Bitcoin buyer who binned PC with £275m fortune plans 12-month landfill hunt

A blundering computer engineer who lost £275 million in Bitcoin after tossing out his hard drive is planning a mammoth 12-month search of a landfill using X-ray scanning devices and specialist AI technology.

James Howells, 35, says the missing drive contains 7,500 units of Bitcoin now worth more than £275 million after he threw it out in 2013.

The IT worker has already offered his local council in Newport, Wales, £55 million to dig up the rubbish tip and help recover the lost hard drive.

"Since I made the offer in January the value of bitcoin has gone up and down – if we were to recover the hard drive today it would be worth £275 million," he told The Sun.

"This would be a proper search – not just somebody going in with a bucket and spade.

"We have a system with multiple conveyer-belts, X-ray scanning devices and an AI scanning device that would be trained to recognise items that are a similar size and density to the hard drive."

He added: "This would be a delicate search because we wouldn't want to damage the hard drive in the process – you can't just use a claw grabber."

Eight years ago James was clearing out his office when the hard drive got binned along with a broken laptop, old keyboards, and mice.

He previously said: "I had two identical hard drives and I threw out the wrong one.

"I know I'm not the only person who has ever thrown out the wrong thing but it usually doesn't cost people over £200 million. I have to laugh about it now because what else can I do?"

James has repeatedly appealed to Newport Council for help in recovering the machine and has now offered a 25% share of his fortune if workers can pluck it out.

But so far his requests have been refused.

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Newport Council said James had made repeated requests for help – but it was unable to assist him.

A spokeswoman said: "Newport City Council has been contacted a number of times since 2014 about the possibility of retrieving a piece of IT hardware said to contain Bitcoins.

"The first time was several months after Mr Howells first realised the hardware was missing."

She went on: "The cost of digging up the landfill, storing and treating the waste could run into millions of pounds – without any guarantee of either finding it or it still being in working order.

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"The council has also told Mr Howells on a number of occasions that excavation is not possible under our licencing permit and excavation itself would have a huge environmental impact on the surrounding area.

"Even if we were able to agree to his request, there is the question of who would meet the cost if the hard drive was not found or was damaged to such an extent that the data could not be recovered.

"We have, therefore, been clear that we cannot assist him in this matter."

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