AN IT worker who lost £160 million in Bitcoin after his ex binned the hard drive has threatened his local council with legal action if they refuse to let him search a landfill for it.
James Howells, 38, has been battling the council for a decade to search the piles of rubbish for his treasure chest of Bitcoin, which is ex-girlfriend threw out in 2013.
He has been refused permission to search for the iPhone sized drive repeatedly – despite offering a quarter of any fortune to the council.
They say the chances of finding the drive, which James believes is now worth around £162m, are unrealistic.
The IT worker has previously hired engineers, environmentalists and data recovery experts from around the world to aid in his desperate search.
He even hired NASA data experts Ontrack in 2021 – the data-recovery firm which salvaged the battered drive from the Columbia space shuttle after it plunged to Earth in 2003.
James is now turning to the threat of legal action against Newport council chiefs in an attempt to retrieve the cryptocurrency.
His legal team have slammed the council for “ignoring Mr Howells’ requests to meet”, and are asking for immediate access to the landfill.
They are threatening to sue if not given the chance, and have set the council a deadline of September 18.
James told WalesOnline: “Newport City Council continues to ignore our requests for a meeting, a genuine sit-down conversation, to figure out a way forward.
“They continue to stonewall us. The only option left is legal action.
“I have three barristers [Dean Armstrong KC, Bruce Drummond and Maria Mulla] on board and we are willing to take them all the way to the High Court and Supreme Court if necessary.”
James claims he has a proprietary right under law to the hard drive, and doesn’t understand why the council won’t engage with him.
“It’s ridiculous that they have not had a conversation with us about how to do this safely, without damaging the environment, at no cost to the council,” he said.
“The value of the coins is still viable and will grow over time.”
James accidentally threw out the valuable hard drive containing the Bitcoin fortune while cleaning out his office ten years ago.
His ex-girlfriend, Hafina, then took the rubbish to the tip before James realised he had made a mistake.
Reliving the brutal mistake, James said he doesn’t blame his former partner for the innocent mistake.
He did add: “legally, the hard drive left my house while I was asleep without my consent. Therefore it could be considered stolen property under UK law, potentially.”
“But I’m not giving up. I equate it to the council harbouring stolen property for ten years, that’s what it’s like.”
It’s value has fluctuated over the years, with James claiming two years ago that it was worth £342 million.
He previously explained the search was expected to take 9 to 12 months and would be aided by specially employed AI technology.
He said his plan has been backed by hedge funds who are willing to stump up for the cost of the search as well as the equipment involved in exchange for the lion’s share of his fortune.
He has studied aerial photographs of the site and believes the hard drive is in a 200 metre squared area and could be as deep as 15 metres under the rubbish.
James’ previous plans to trawl through the tip have included robotic arms, manual pickers and factory-standard machinery.
But over the years the council has repeatedly shut down his plans for excavation, citing a variety of reasons ranging from environmental permits to the likelihood of finding his device.
James, however, thinks “the excuses are just fluff.”
“We have experts that can mitigate every single concern. People who deal with landfills for a living. These are not new techniques [his team are proposing] – it’s just about bringing them all together.”
“There’s no way to estimate what the hard drive will be like when we get it,” he did admit.
“We could find it and it could be cracked into a million pieces. I accept that. But we could find it and it could be stuck under something and be fine – that is just as likely. We just don’t know.”
A Council spokesperson said: “Newport City Council has been contacted multiple times since 2013 about the possibility of retrieving a piece of IT hardware said to contain bitcoins, which may or may not be in our landfill site.
“The council has told Mr Howells multiple times that excavation is not possible under our environmental permit, and that work of that nature would have a huge negative environmental impact on the surrounding area.
“The council is the only body authorised to carry out operations on the site. We have been very clear and consistent in our responses that we cannot assist Mr Howells in this matter.
“Our position has not changed. We will be offering no further comments on this issue as it takes up valuable officer time which could be spent on delivering services for the residents of Newport.”
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Investing and making a purchase in cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin is risky .
Their value is highly volatile and City watchdog the Financial Conduct Authority has warned investors should be prepared to lose all their money.
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You should also think carefully about making purchases with a cryptocurrency.
For example, Bitcoin has had wild price fluctuations in recent months and the price can change on an almost hourly basis.
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