Finders must pay back lottery winnings

A couple who found a winning lottery ticket and cashed it in have been ordered by a court today to pay back half of the prize money to the woman who bought it.

Dorothy McDonagh, 61, dropped the £1 daily play ticket on the floor of her local Co-op store in Swindon on 20 October last year.

Michael and Amanda Stacey found the ticket, cashed it and then spent half of the winning £30,000 prize money on clearing their debts.

The couple were each given an 11-month suspended sentence for fraud in April this year.

Today a judge at Swindon Crown Court ordered Mr Stacey, 43, to pay Mrs McDonagh £15,111 - the £111 being interest on the payment.

Mrs Stacey, 34, was ordered to pay a nominal £5 compensation.

Mrs McDonagh was able to prove to lottery firm Camelot that she had bought the winning ticket because she had kept the receipt.

She purchased four £1 lines on the Daily Play game but realised her ticket was missing later that evening when her numbers matched the top prize.

Camelot checked computer records and found the £30,000 prize had been claimed at a Post Office.

Police froze the remaining £15,000 and brought charges against the couple who told police they didn't realise they were committing a crime and put the find down to luck.

The Staceys admitted charges of making a false representation, and Amanda Stacey also admitted theft.

Speaking outside court after the proceeds of crime act hearing today, Mrs McDonagh told the BBC: "This has gone on for nine months now and this is not the final episode.

"I will not elaborate on the pursuance of the matter with Camelot for legal reasons.

"I am infuriated and deeply offended by their negligence.

"Who would have believed that winning the lottery could cause so much hassle and for so long."

Camelot said today they were sympathetic to Mrs McDonagh's situation but said they had had no reason to suspect that Mr and Mrs Stacey were lying.

Spokesman Ben Rosier said: "Camelot is obliged to pay a prize to the person whose name appears on the back of a ticket and who has satisfied the identification process.

"At the time of the payment of the prize in question, Camelot had no reason to suspect the identity of the individual claiming the prize, nor any reason to suspect that the ticket was either lost or stolen, given that no lost or stolen ticket claim had been received.

"Camelot has followed the rules and has provided full details to the police to enable them to investigate.

"While we are sympathetic to the situation, Camelot cannot be held responsible for the failure to follow the advice we offer to players or people who find tickets - and would refute any suggestion of negligence.

"Any dispute resulting from the claimant's failure to disclose that a ticket was an item of lost property is a matter between the claimant and the original ticket-holders."

He added there were steps that lottery players should take to ensure they protect their potential payments.

He said: "We urge National Lottery players to write their name and address in the space provided on the back of the ticket - this ensures that the player can be quickly identified as the rightful owner.

"Claimants are required to provide two separate forms of identification, and to complete and sign a claim form.

"By following this procedure, the claimant is declaring that they are the legitimate prize claimant."

Mr Rosier said that if anyone should find a winning lottery ticket they should declare that they did not buy it to Camelot.

"To legitimise their claim to a 'found' ticket, it is clearly in the interests of the finder to disclose that they are making a claim on a found ticket," he said.

"If a member of the public finds a winning ticket which they have not been able to return to its owner, and which is within the 180-day claim deadline, they should submit it to Camelot's Prize Payout department, setting out, in writing, the circumstances of the find and the steps they took to reunite the ticket with its rightful owner.

"If, having lodged the ticket with us, no corresponding prize claim or lost ticket notice has been received, the prize may be paid to the finder at Camelot's discretion after the expiry of the 180-day claim deadline."