Webb v Ireland & Ag

JurisdictionIreland
JudgeMr. Justice Blayney
Judgment Date29 July 1986
Neutral Citation1986 WJSC-HC 1906
CourtHigh Court
Date29 July 1986

1986 WJSC-HC 1906

THE HIGH COURT

1982-3139 P
WEBB v. IRELAND & AG

BETWEEN

MICHAEL T.S. WEBB AND MICHAEL O'CONNELL WEBB (AN INFANT SUING BY HIS FATHER AND NEXT FRIEND, MICHAEL T.S. WEBB)
PLAINTIFFS

AND

IRELAND AND THE ATTORNEY GENERAL
DEFENDANTS

Citations:

BIDDLE V BOND (1865) 6 B&S 225, 122 ER 179

BYRNE V IRELAND 1972 IR 241

CHILTON V CARRINGTON 15 CB 730

COMMON LAW PROCEDURE ACT 1854

CONSTITUTION ART 49.1

CONSTITUTIONAL (AMDT) ACT 1936

EXECUTIVE AUTHORITY (EXTERNAL RELATION) ACT 1936

IRISH MUTUAL INSURANCE ASSOCIATION 1955 IR 176

NATIONAL MONUMENTS ACT 1930

PATON BAILMENT 1952 P390

PERUVIAN GUANO CO V DREYFUS BROTHERS 1892 AC 166

ROGERS SONS & CO V LAMBERT & CO 1891 1 QB 318, 60 LJQB 187

SALMOND & HEUSTON TORTS 18ED P107

SCARTH, IN RE 10 CH 23

Synopsis:

CONSTITUTION

State

Property - Treasure trove - Finder of valuable articles delivered them to the State - Delivery made without prejudice to rights of finder - Ownership of articles claimed by the State - Held that the State had no property in the articles as assignee of the former royal prerogative - (1982/3139 P - Blayney J. - 29/7/86)

|Webb v. Ireland|

CONTRACT

Bailment

Bailee - Obligations - Return of goods - Title claimed by bailee - Estoppel - Refusal of bailee to return goods to bailor on his demand - Treasure trove - Derrynaflan hoard - On 17/2/80 the plaintiffs found, by use of a metal detector, an early Christian chalice, a patten and other artifacts which had been buried on the lands of a third party - The plaintiffs, acting as trespassers, disinterred the objects and delivered them to the National Museum on the next day - The plaintiffs so delivered the objects "for the present and pending determination of the legal ownership" and also subject to the plaintiffs” rights to any rewards or payments - On 16/6/81 the State offered #10,000 to the plaintiffs for a release of their claims to the objects; the plaintiffs did not accept the offer - On 7/7/81 the landowner, who was not a party to the plaintiffs” action, assigned to the State for valuable consideration all the claims and rights that he might have to the objects found by the plaintiffs - On 8/2/82 the State claimed that the objects belonged to the State - On 11/3/82 the plaintiffs issued a summons in which they claimed in detinue the return by the State of the specific objects which had been delivered to the National Museum - Held that the State had no claim to the objects as assignee of the former royal prerogative - Held that the State, as bailee, was estopped from denying the title of the plaintiffs, as bailors, to the possession of the objects notwithstanding the assignment by the landowner - Held that the rights, if any, of the landowner to the objects at the time of their discovery were not affected by the decision of the court - Held that, although the plaintiffs were entitled to an order directing the State to return the goods, the order would be conditioned upon the plaintiffs making an allowance to the State for the enhanced value of the objects resulting from the work of restoration done while the objects were in the custody of the State - (1982/3139 P - Blayney J. - 29/7/86)

|Webb v. Ireland|

DETINUE

Bailment

Bailee - Obligations - Return of goods - Goods repaired by bailee - Value of goods enhanced - Bailor entitled to return of specific articles - Order for return made conditional upon bailor making an allowance to bailee for the enhanced value - (1982/3139 P - Blayney J. - 29/7/86)

|Webb v. Ireland|

EQUITY

Bailment

Detinue - Return of goods - Goods repaired by bailee - Value of goods enhanced - Bailor entitled to return of specific articles - Order for return made conditional upon bailor making an allowance to bailee for enhanced value - (1982/3139 P - Blayney J. - 29/7/86)

|Webb v. Ireland|

EVIDENCE

Estoppel

Bailment - Bailee - Obligations - Return of goods bailed - Bailee claimed to be the owner of the goods - Refusal of bailee to return goods - Held that the defendant, as bailee, was estopped from denying that the plaintiff bailor was entitled to the possession of the goods - (1982/3139 P - Blayney J. - 29/7/86)

|Webb v. Ireland|

1

Judgment of Mr. Justice Blayney delivered the 29thday of July 1986

2

This is an action by the finders of the Derrynaflan hoard to recover possession of it from the State on whose behalf it is held by the National Museum.

3

The importance of the find was described as follows in a memorandum prepared by Dr. Michael Ryan, the keeper of Irish antiquities in the National Museum:

"The Derrynaflan hoard is one of the most significant discoveries of early Christian art ever made. The chalice dates to the early nineth century and preliminary study has revealed the extremely important break-through which analysis of its decoration and technology will have for later Irish and, probably also. Viking studies. The Paten stands close comparison with the Ardagh Chalice in style, technique and range of motifs - it is a superb piece and like the chalice is an immensely important contribution to knowledge. The strainer is also a first class objetd'art unique in many respects - while the covering basin, although severely corroded, is likewise a significant and valuable find in its own right."

4

The case raises important questions of law but there is very little dispute as to the facts which I find to be as follows.

5

The objects constituting the hoard were found by the Plaintiffs, using metal detectors, on 17th February, 1980. The place where they were found is an island of pasture land, known as Derrynaflan, surrounded by a vast area of bog, and is situate about nine miles north east of Cashel between the villages of Horse and Jockey and Killenaule. The island is owned jointly by Mr. Denis O'Brien and Mr. John O'Leary is unequal shares, Mr. O'Brien being entitled to 10/24ths and Mr. O'Leary to 14/24ths. It is approximately 73 acres in area and has on it the remains of a Church and other buildings which formed part of an Abbey, and a tomb which is supposed to be that of the Guban Saer. On the 8th June, 1935 a Preservation Order had been made by the Minister for Finance under Section 8 of the National Monuments Act 1930in respect of the buildings and the tomb which are described in the Order as "Derrynaf1an Abbey or Guban's Church and grave". At the time of the find there had for some years been a Bord Failte notice on a wall of the Church giving some brief facts about the site and a Board of Works notice informing the public that it is an offence to injure or interfere in any manner with a national monument.

6

The hoard was found in a pit which had been dug partially into the remains of a bank and partially into the side of a ditch which at the time the hoard was deposited in the pit, had either silted up or been back-filled. The hoard had clearly been buried in the pit with the object of concealing it. The Plaintiffs dug down into the pit using a small garden trowel and their hands and the first part of the hoard, the bronze basin, was encountered about nine inches under the surface.

7

I find that the Plaintiffs had the implied permission of the owners of the land to go to the island for the purpose of visiting the Church and tomb which were the subject of the Preservation Order, but they did not have any permission express or implied to dig in the lands as they did.

8

The Plaintiffs brought the hoard home and the following day, the first named Plaintiff brought it to the National Museum and delivered it into the custody of Dr. Brendán Ó Ríordáin the Directo of the Museum. At the same time Mr. Webb gave Dr. Ó Ríordáin a letter from his solicitor which was in the following terms:

"18th February, 1980

Dear Sir,

We have been consulted by Mr. Michael T.S. Webb with reference to certain articles which he and his son Mr. Michael Webb Junior found en the 17th February 1980.

These articles appear to be a chalice, tray and screener and it is possible that they may constitute treasure trove, our client is advised that these articles should, with the minimum possible delay and handling, be delivered to the care and custody of experts who have the facilities for examination and preserving same. We have accordingly advised our client that he should deliver these articles to your care for the present and pending determination of the legal ownership or status thereof; and also, of course, subject to any rights to payment or reward which our client and his son have.

Yours faithfully,

O'Brien & Binchy."

9

Dr. Ó Ríordáin told Mr. Webb that he thought that the articles making up the hoard were treasure trove, but in regard to this aspect of the matter he would have to be guided by the Attorney General's Office. He told Mr. Webb that he would be honourably treated. It was arranged that Dr. Michael Ryan and Miss Mary Cahill would meet Mr. Webb in Cashel on the following Sunday and that he would show them where he had found the hoard. On that day Mr. Webb brought Dr. Ryan and Miss Cahill to Derrynaflan, as arranged, and pointed out the spot where the hoard had been buried.

10

The National Museum then set about ascertaining who were the owners of the island, and having discovered that it was Mr. O'Brien and Mr. O'Leary, they sought and obtained their permission to carry out excavations on the site. These excavations which lasted for about six weeks, were carried out in the Spring of 1980, and resulted in a number of missing components being found which belonged either to the paten, the strainer or the bronze basin.

11

Mr. Webb had been told by Dr. Ó Ríordáin that he would be honourably treated, but in October, 1980, eight months after the find, nothing had been done to implement this promise, so he instructed his solicitors Messrs O'Brien and Binchy to write to Dr. Ó Ríordáin which they did on the 9th October, 1980. Dr. Ó Ríordáin replied that the...

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