There has been some excitement about the news that Leicestershire police have raised more than £1.5m by selling seized criminal assets on eBay since 2009. On average, they make between £200,000 and £220,000 a year in sales, but 2016 was particularly good, returning £300,000. Although Leicestershire are one of the biggest operators, they are by no means the only British police force to run an eBay shop.
Since the Proceeds of Crime Act passed in 2002, law-enforcement agencies have been able to seize any cash and sell any goods that can be shown to come from criminal activity. The Home Office gets half the money raised; the rest is divided between the force, the Crown Prosecution Service and the courts. A judge may also order that a portion of the money be set aside to compensate victims. Some forces also sell property that cannot be reunited with its owner, and a few sell surplus odds and ends.
Thames Valley currently have some good deals on bikes and tools. Cheshire police appear, curiously, to be strong on printer ink. Sussex police, a little worryingly, are offering for sale a battered rifle scope. Titan, the north-west regional organised crime unit, once sold a drug dealer’s Lamborghini. Leicestershire, on behalf of Northamptonshire, sold a trafficker’s plane (alas, the extremely valuable drugs inside could not be offered to the market). By comparison, Nottinghamshire constabulary’s place mats look rather quaint.
According to Paul Wenlock, head of Leicestershire police’s economic crime unit, most of the money they raise comes from goods seized from drug dealers. “They can’t help themselves,” Wenlock told the Leicester Mercury. “They go out and invest in bling items. Law-abiding people ask themselves why these people have a luxury car on the driveway and a new Rolex when they do not appear to have a legitimate income.”
As a result, Wenlock’s team run a classy shop. Louboutin shoes, BMWs and Prada handbags are all familiar items. The force have sold a Porsche, an Aston Martin and a Ferrari. “We only sell genuine items,” says a spokesperson for Leicestershire police. So, no fake Louboutins? “No. We wouldn’t sell anything that is contentious, and obviously we’re bound by eBay’s rules.”
Even so, beside the usual attraction of snapping up a secondhand bargain, perhaps some customers feel that owning a Rolex watch or a Mulberry handbag that once hung from the wrist of a career criminal adds character and cachet. Of course, others may remember what happened when Homer Simpson bought a hot rod at a police auction – he discovered that Snake, its previous owner, wanted it back. (Spoiler: the pair end up destroying a house.)
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