This is the sad story of James Howells, who had 7,500 bitcoins stored on a computer hard drive that’s now beneath 200,000 tons of rubbish at his local tip in Newport, South Wales – just down the road from UpdraftPlus’s main office.

Howells, who works in IT, managed to mine 7,500 bitcoins using an old laptop back in 2009 when you didn’t need specialised hardware. When the laptop broke, he sold it off in parts on eBay, keeping the hard drive safe in a draw in case bitcoin ever took off.

After 3 years, he had completely forgotten about his bitcoin hoard and threw out the hard drive during a clear out. “You know when you put something in the bin, and in your head, say to yourself ‘that’s a bad idea’? I really did have that,” Howells, said.

But for a while, he didn’t give it much thought. “I hadn’t kept up on Bitcoin, I’d been distracted. I’d had a couple of kids since then, I’d been doing the house up, and forgot about it until it was in the news again.” Even then, his bitcoins were worth millions. But since the market price of the digital currency has skyrocketed in recent months, his pile is now worth over $120 million.

Naturally, Howells has done his best to get the hard drive back. But as he points out, “digging up a landfill is not as easy as just digging a hole in the ground.” Not only would it require excavation on a massive scale (involving lots of specialist machinery), but it would also involve all the dirty, dangerous excavated waste having to be stored, treated and searched through with a fine toothcomb.

The costs would run into the millions, and the environmental impact would be enormous. And even given such an effort, there’s very little chance of actually locating the little hard drive. If by some miracle it could be located, it would probably be corroded by the landfill leachates and gases.

We’ve all thrown things out by accident, but it’s hard to imagine Howells feelings at losing something worth such a vast, life-changing fortune. Howells still has the public address for his bitcoins, and looking at it is, “… a little like looking at your bank account containing millions of dollars but not being able to spend it.”

Considering his loss, Howells is remarkably good-humoured about the whole affair. “I’m at the point where it’s either laugh about it or cry about it,” Howells says. “I think I’m just resigned to never being able to find it.”

To us at UpdraftPlus, the moral of the story is clear. Yes, you’ve guessed it:

Always back up.

You never know, one day you might thank us for saving you a fortune.


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