Police, Camera...Auction!


Written by Kieron Monks
15 Wednesday 15th July 2009

It's still half an hour before the auction begins when I arrive, but already there is a dense hubbub of speculators and accumulators. "We've been getting busier lately," director Bob Stone informs me (no doubt due to a steep rise in credit-crunch repossessions, that has seen 20 percent more cars reclaimed in the last year). But it's bicycles that dominate his yard. Hundreds of them.

"Apart from bailiffs, the metropolitan police are our major supplier," Stone explains, although the massed collections of woolly hats and false teeth (seriously!) hardly resemble a criminal's ill-gotten gains. It is an uncomfortable thought that repossession services take such a fine toothed comb to people's most essential and private property. This is the sharp end of the credit crunch and there has been public outcry over forced asset forfeiture. Since a 2006 amendment to the Proceeds of Crime Act, police have been allowed to keep 50 percent of the profits, an obvious incitement to over-zealous seizures. Stone is reluctant to talk about the financial agreement he has with the police, but suffice to say it is a lucrative one.

Someone probably needs these..

Still, the victim's loss is an opportunist's gain. Every piece of stock must go in the frenzied few hours in which they are thrown open to the public. As veteran auctioneer Joe Hunt explains, "There is no reserve and we can't have anything taking up space. If we can't sell something it gets chucked in with the next lot". This leads to some astonishing bargains that saw one woman walk away with two bikes for five pounds. Hunt typifies a trend of unshakeable stability in a business that has stood since 1824. He has been the auctioneer since 1961, but most of the staff have remained for decades, including Stone, who began as an ‘office boy'.

Bob White

The sense of community is palpable, with Hunt leading his congregation, addressing most by their first names. "There is a core of people that come here for every auction," Stone tells me, "but there are always new faces too." Give or take a fierce exchange for a classy suit, today's proceedings are fairly relaxed with a lot of low bids taking the prize unopposed. This is hardly Sotheby's, but has been around for nearly as long. Timeless community institution? Or an ethically dodgy feeding frenzy over the carcass of the dispossessed? Why not head down on a Thursday and make up your own mind.

To bag yourself some unpredictable booty, get down to Frank G. Bowen's

Photography by Matthew Hass


Don't Panic attempt to credit photographers and content owners wherever possible, however due to the sheer size and nature of the internet this is sometimes impractical or impossible. If you see any images on our site which you believe belong to yourself or another and we have incorrectly used it please let us know at panic@dontpaniconline.com and we will respond asap.