Contenders enter ring for diamond belt found in bank vault

Marianne Macdonald
Friday 22 October 1993 23:02

MYSTERY surrounds the ownership of a diamond-encrusted boxing belt found in a NatWest bank vault. A spokesman admitted last night that attempts to trace its owner were turning into a nightmare.

The ornate gold Lonsdale belt has been lying in the Brighton vault for about 80 years and was revealed as unclaimed and unpaid-for by an internal audit. The depositor, whom NatWest promises to name next week, has died.

The bank's attempts to find the heir have thrown up a variety of claimants - none of whom is a descendant of the depositor - who have refused to co-operate. Meanwhile, the elderly son of the boxer awarded the belt in the first place is threatening legal action if it is not given to him.

The belt was presented by the National Sporting Club to the Cockney boxer Thomas 'Pedlar' Palmer in 1897 after he won the world bantamweight title in 1895. It was then worth pounds 1,000 - pounds 60,000 in today's terms.

Palmer later claimed the belt was stolen. He went on to work as a bookmaker in Brighton and served five years in prison for manslaughter after he killed a man on a train returning from Epsom races.

Barry Hugman, who compiles the British Boxing Board of Control Yearbook, said: 'If the belt was stolen then Palmer's son has a better claim than anyone else. But Palmer could have put it up in a wager and been too embarrassed to say so.'

David Willis, a director of the National Sporting Club, said the club would put in a claim for the belt if no direct descendant of the depositor could be traced.

'It's likely it was stolen from Palmer and it was a hot item - a diamond-encrusted Lonsdale belt could not have been sold easily,' he said. 'One scenario is the potentially shady character then forgot about it or was jailed.'

But Bobby Palmer, 79, of Hove, the boxer's son, who heard about the belt after an acquaintance with the same name was asked by the bank if he was related to the boxer, is adamant it is his. 'I will take legal action if I don't get it back in a number of days. The bank won't even let me see it,' he said.

Mike Peates, a NatWest spokesman, said: 'This is turning into a nightmare. We've had a number of claimants, but the family of the actual depositor are reluctant to help us.'

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