Up for auction . . . 75,000 items that were 'lost in the post' by Royal Mail

Royal Mail has admitted selling off thousands of items that got ‘lost in the post’ to help meet its running costs.

The troubled company sells the contents of about 75,000 undelivered packages every year, at the risk of enraging hordes of customers already frustrated that their post has gone astray.

Even customers who paid over the odds for premium ‘secure’ services to cover valuable items have been shocked to find their goods put up for auction, in an operation that could be netting the postal giant millions of pounds a year.

The scandal was exposed by retired teacher John Beattie after he discovered that a set of antique bagpipes, which Royal Mail had lost, were for sale on internet auction site eBay.

He had originally sold the rare 1910 Henderson bagpipes to a fellow collector in Belgium for Pounds 1,500 last July, and despatched them using the Royal Mail’s Airsure premium airmail service, described as ‘fast, secure and reliable’.

Although the package was correctly labelled, it vanished without trace.

However, in March this year a friend spotted the bagpipes online.
It turned out that the package had spent three months languishing in the national undelivered mail centre in
Belfast, before the Royal Mail sent it to Surrey auctioneers Wellers.

In turn, they sold the bagpipes to an online bidder for Pounds 60. The instrument then turned up on eBay, advertised by a man in the Glasgow area.

Wellers has an exclusive contract to sell Royal Mail’s undelivered post, but senior auctioneer Glen Snelgar refused to comment on their arrangement.

He said: ‘We are bound by a confidentiality agreement.’ A Royal Mail spokeswoman admitted: ‘About 500,000 undeliverable parcels are sent to Royal Mail’s return letter centre every year.

‘They are kept for up to six months, after which a proportion about 15 per cent are sent to auction, with the proceeds making a contribution to the centre’s annual Pounds 10million running costs.’ She said some of the money was given to charity, but would not disclose how much.

Fifty-five-year-old Mr Beattie, of Northwich, Cheshire, is furious at how he has been treated. ‘I’ve spent a year trying to sort this out,’ he said.

‘I did everything I should have.

I clearly addressed the box containing the bagpipes, and Royal Mail labelled it with its own stickers, too.

‘It even had an online track-tag attached to it, and this was supposed to enable Royal Mail to follow the progress of the package.

‘After months of phone calls and countless letters, I’ve lost my bagpipes, lost money and I am worried this is happening to plenty of other people, too.

‘Royal Mail does not answer to anybody. If something goes missing, it is not interested in returning it.’

Royal Mail has paid Mr Beattie the maximum Pounds 500 compensation offered under its Airsure scheme, but he is still Pounds 1,000 out of pocket.

Watchdogs Postwatch said: ‘We are asking Royal Mail to explain its process.

It would be good news if it paid Mr Beattie the money he is out of pocket by.’

Meanwhile, Strathclyde police are holding the pipes advertised on eBay until they determine the rightful owner.

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