Residents of Hitchin conduct frantic last-minute search for largest ever unclaimed National Lottery winning ticket

  • @kevinJrawlinson

Lost: one lottery ticket, somewhere in the Stevenage area. Value: until last night, around £64m.

Residents of the normally quiet, suburban Hertfordshire town - as well as neighbouring Hitchin - were conducting frantic last minute searches for the winning ticket to the largest ever unclaimed Lottery jackpot last night. The ticket, which was bought in the area, has gone missing and now the huge £63,837,543.46 jackpot has gone with it.

“I am sure it was mine,” said 32-year-old landscaper Pete James today. “I lost the ticket I bought near Hitchin. I bought a few and they were in my van but they all got cleaned out before I could check them. I looked for a while but they’ve been chucked away,” he said.

Mr James, who was waiting for a trim in a local barber shop, added: “I also had a few in the pockets of my work jeans which went into the wash. With £64m, I would go somewhere where there is hot weather and glamorous women. I might put a bit of it away of course, there’s only so much you can spend on hot weather and glamorous women.”

Down the road in Stevenage’s picturesque Old Town, staff in one shop said they had heard lots of stories from customers who thought they were the winners. “A million people have ‘lost their tickets’ all of a sudden,” said 22-year-old Alan Edwards. But none found the ticket.

The town’s newsagents are plastered with posters asking: “Are you missing £63.8m” and the owners said they had seen floods of people coming in to check whether theirs was the winner. There were even stories in the town that some were so sure it was hidden down the back of the proverbial sofa that they hired people to come into their house to try to find it.

In order to protect the anonymity of an eventual winner, Lottery operator Camelot is barred from identifying the exact shop the winning Euromillions ticket was bought in, despite the relative ease with which it could have solved the mystery of the missing ticket. In place of any concrete information, came rumour and intrigue.

Staff at the Red Lion pub said that customers have been in talking about the fabled missing ticket for some time. Their theories range from the winner dying to having used the ticket as a filter for a cigarette. “Most expensive cigarette ever”, said one drinker.

Barmaid Anna Cavallo, 24, said she had received text messages from family members reminding her to check her purse But, she was not the winner. “I wish I had it hidden behind the bar,” she said when one colleague offered to “go halves”. Her colleague Ryan Perrin, 21, said he was going to go rooting through the bins as the deadline drew closer.

Local gossip identified the Choc Box newsagent in Stevenage as the source of the winning ticket. “You can’t believe everything you hear,” said 49-year-old Umesh Sacharia, who runs it. He added: “We have had all sorts of stories from people who said they lost their ticket, people coming back in to see if they left it here.”

Tickets are valid for six months after the date of the draw and, if unclaimed, the money is passed from Camelot to 13 Lottery distribution bodies. Camelot said that the money, plus the interest it has earned whilst being held in trust, will be given to charities and other good causes. The bodies choose projects to allocate money to from those which send in applications.

But there is a movement to keep the money within the Stevenage area. Members of a Facebook group say that, since Camelot can tell that it was bought in the area, the money should be given to local causes and charities.

After the months of searching, it is unlikely the holder of the winning ticket will now want to find it. To paraphrase the poster that was driven around the area on vans: “It could have been you”.

Could it be you? Other unclaimed lottery tickets

The huge Hertfordshire jackpot was not the only one due to expire last night. A Monmouthshire winner from the same day in June worth £100,000 was also listed as still unclaimed. A £6.4m jackpot is also yet to be claimed by a winner who bought the ticket in Anglesey. The deadline is next March.

A Watford man lost out on more than £3m in 2001 when he waited too long to claim his winnings. Martyn Tott took his case to court when Camelot refused to pay but he lost and never received a penny.

The previous largest unclaimed jackpot was £9.4m, which no-one came forward to collect after the ticket was bought in Doncaster in 2005.

Last year, a $77m (£47m) jackpot went unclaimed when a US Lottery player, who bought their ticket in Georgia failed to come forward and claim the prize.