The registered keeper of a car and its legal owner are not necessarily one and the same. The High Court made that point in tracing the unusual history of a Porsche which became the focus of a bitter ownership dispute after it was seized by the police in connection with a drugs inquiry.
A widow used part of her inheritance from her deceased partner to buy the Porsche for about £69,000. She was at that point both the vehicle’s registered keeper and its legal owner. However, a few months later, she signed a document by which she agreed that her new partner would be the vehicle’s registered keeper. Their relationship later broke down acrimoniously.
The partner was alleged to have later sold the Porsche to a company for £48,000. The company subsequently leased the car to a man who was arrested in connection with drugs offences. The car was impounded by a police force which launched proceedings, seeking a judicial ruling on the identity of its legal owner.
Following a trial, a judge rejected the company’s argument that the woman had gifted legal title to the car to her partner. Although he had become its registered keeper, she had remained its legal owner. The judge also found that there was an agreement between them that, in the event of their relationship coming to an end, the Porsche would be returned to her.
In dismissing the company’s appeal against that outcome, the Court detected no flaw in the judge’s factual findings. He was also entitled to conclude that the company had failed to establish on the evidence that it had obtained good title to the car as a bona fide purchaser for value. The end result of the case was that the woman was declared the car’s legal owner and the police force, which took a neutral stance throughout, was directed to return it to her.