Prizewinner's prospects were scotched by a thief: Anne Shaw draws a moral from the case of a school fete supporter who felt her treatment wasn't quite the ticket

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WHEN Shirley Davies bought tickets for the raffle to be held at her son's school fete, she never expected to win.

'I work on a Saturday,' says Mrs Davies, a cashier in a firm of bookmakers. 'So I couldn't go to the fete, but I wanted to show my support for the PTA so I bought all the tickets my son bought home, costing pounds 4 in all.'

The day of the fete came and went and after a week Mrs Davies found the tickets in the bottom of her handbag and threw them away. She continues: 'Then, another four days later, I received a phone call from the organiser of the raffle asking when I was going to pick up my 'other' prize.

'I was completely bewildered. It seems I had won two prizes, but although my name and address were on the counterfoils no one had told me I had won. And what was this about the 'other' prize? What had happened to the first?'

Mrs Davies was told that 'a very kind person' had offered to take her prize - a bottle of whisky - and deliver it to her. But the snag was that Mrs Davies had no idea who this person was - and nor had the organisers of the fete.

'I was furious,' says Mrs Davies, who by this time had retrieved her tickets from the bin.

'It wasn't so much that I wanted the whisky - I'm not much of a drinker. But how could they give the prize away to someone they didn't know? If it wasn't the PTA, I'd be tempted to sue.'

And she may have a case, Phillip Sycamore, a partner in the Blackpool solicitors Lonsdales, says: 'As soon as the winning ticket is drawn, title to the goods passes to the owner of the ticket and anyone who then passes the goods to a third party without authority would he liable.

'If that person is the servant or agent of an organisation, such as the organisers of the raffle, there may be some vicarious liability on the part of that organisation.'

Joan Lunn, senior lecturer at Manchester Metropolitan University, says the person running a raffle has a duty of care and must use reasonable standards and skill.

'There would in theory be a legal case, although the courts tend to be dismissive of such small claims,' she says. 'But if the prize had been larger, perhaps a holiday or a car, the holder of the winning ticket could certainly sue the promoters and their agents.'

Prize draws are regulated under the terms of the Lotteries and Amusements Act 1976 and must be registered with the local authority, to whom a report must be made within three months of the event taking place. Certain conditions must be met.

A police check is run on the promoter and no ticket may be sold to a person under 16 - something which organisers of school events should bear in mind - or cost more than pounds 1. Offences carry a maximum fine of pounds 5,000 where the case is heard in a magistrates' court and up to two years' imprisonment if it goes to a crown court.

Organisers of fetes and fairs ought to be fully aware of their other duties and liabilities under the law, particularly public liability, where the victim of an accident involving a faultily installed tent peg could sue for hundreds of thousands of pounds.

'Many small organisations such as PTAs probably believe they are covered by the school's insurance,' says Roger Dibble, of Cornhill. 'But this is almost certainly not the case unless special arrangements have been made.'

Several firms of insurers, including Cornhill, Lombard General and Independent Insurance, offer special events policies giving cover against public liability and mishaps such as the rain making the fete a washout or the star who is to cut the red ribbon not turning up. Cornhill's public liability cover for a school fete or similar event costs about pounds 50 for the day.

It is also possible to insure against someone winning the big prize - or indeed stealing a smaller one, although this is more difficult. Geoff Clark, of Lombard General - whose policies, available through brokers only, include optional extras as a bolt-on to basic cancellation cover - says: 'We would consider insuring prizes where they were, say, locked in a case which was broken into, but we would not insure them where they were left out on an open table, nor where they were given to the wrong person through deception.'

Neither Cornhill nor Independent insures prizes, but Independent has a leaflet, Be Wise Before the Event, to help organisers choose what cover they need.

Independent Insurance is on 0342 410166.

(Photograph omitted)

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