AN IT worker who lost £275 million in Bitcoin after tossing out his hard drive has planned a 12-month search of a landfill using X-ray scanning devices and specialist AI technology.
James Howells, 35, has offered £55 million to his local council if he is allowed to search a 200-metre area of a rubbish dump in Newport, Wales.
James accidentally chucked the hard drive containing the Bitcoin fortune when he was cleaning out his office in 2013.
He has contacted engineers, environmentalists and data recovery experts from around the world in his bid to carry out the year-long specialist search.
James said his plan has been backed by a super-rich hedge fund willing to stump up for the cost of the search as well as the equipment involved in exchange for the lion’s share of his fortune.
But stubborn council chiefs won’t even listen to his ideas – no matter how much money he promises them, he said.
“Since I made the offer in January the value of bitcoin has gone up and down – if we were to recover the hard drive today it would be worth £275 million,” he told The Sun Online.
“This would be a proper search – not just somebody going in with a bucket and spade.
“We have a system with multiple conveyer-belts, X-ray scanning devices and an AI scanning device that would be trained to recognise items that are a similar size and density to the hard drive.”
He added: “This would be a delicate search because we wouldn’t want to damage the hard drive in the process – you can’t just use a claw grabber.
“We’ve spoken to excavation experts and proper engineers to make sure it was all being done correctly as well as in a way that was safe for the environment.
“For the past four or five months I’ve also been talking to some of the best data recovery experts in the world to make sure we can get it off the hard drive.”
James, of Newport, said the scanning device alone would cost up to £500,000, and an extractor tool to clear up any pollution would cost a further £100,000.
But council chiefs won’t entertain the idea or allow him to meet with officials to outline his plans, he said.
“If they would listen to me and hear me out they would know there’s no risk to the council,” James said.
“All I want is to put my case to the decision makers and if they still say no then so be it but they won’t even do that.
“In January I offered them £55 million but at the moment they are saying ‘no’ no matter how much money is involved.”
James said he has studied aerial photographs of the site and believes the hard drive is in a 200-metre squared area and could be 15 metres deep.
“We estimate there is between 300,000 – 400,000 tonnes of waste to look through,” he said.
Newport Council said James had made repeated requests for help – but it was unable to assist him.
A spokeswoman said: “Newport City Council has been contacted a number of times since 2014 about the possibility of retrieving a piece of IT hardware said to contain Bitcoins.
“The first time was several months after Mr Howells first realised the hardware was missing.
“The cost of digging up the landfill, storing and treating the waste could run into millions of pounds – without any guarantee of either finding it or it still being in working order.
“The council has also told Mr Howells on a number of occasions that excavation is not possible under our licencing permit and excavation itself would have a huge environmental impact on the surrounding area.
“Even if we were able to agree to his request, there is the question of who would meet the cost if the hard drive was not found or was damaged to such an extent that the data could not be recovered.
“We have, therefore, been clear that we cannot assist him in this matter.”
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Source: The Sun