Get amazing bargains on property, cars, computers ... buy
top-quality stolen bikes for £10 at official police auctions ...
discover the secrets of government auctions ... fantastic prices
on army surplus ... ridiculously low clearance prices from
These claims are plastered over internet adverts. But do these
secret stashes of bargain goods really exist? Is there a sort of
parallel eBay known only to a select few?
Many of the claims are indeed bunk, but when Guardian Money
investigated, the big surprise was that there are bargains to be
found if you search hard enough - from stolen bikes starting at £1
where the police can't find the owner to RAF officer shoes at £4 a
There's even the 5,000-ton HMS Sir Percivale, which the Royal Navy
is currently trying to flog. It can carry 350 troops and their
vehicles, and was the first ship to enter Stanley harbour after
the Argentinian surrender in the Falklands War. But there's no
argy-bargy today. Just press "add to basket" and it's yours for
First, let's dispel some of the auction myths. The worst are
those perpetrated by the fax-back scammers, who flood office fax
machines with spurious claims that they will locate "police and
government sales of repossessed retail goods".
Premium-rate phone regulator Icstis this week fined three
fax-back operators a total of more than £100,000 for sending
unsolicited faxes promising "truly amazing no-reserve sales that
anyone can attend but few ever hear about."
Anyone foolish enough to respond is sent a 19-minute long fax
charged at premium call rates (up to £1.50/minute) with
information the regulator said can be found with a simple search
Icstis investigated the claims of one fax-back merchant, and
found that 27 of the websites referred to did not offer any of the
items stated on the promotional fax, companies listed were "trade
only" and only handled bulk orders, while the fax-back itself was
unreasonably long with unnecessary spacing and borders to prolong
the duration of the premium rate call.
So what about the legitimate police and government auctions?
They're not secret, and there's no point in paying for a directory
or booklet listing the auction houses or websites the government
uses. We list most of them here.
This website disposes of property that the police have seized
or has been handed in, and where the police can't locate the
original owner. Stuff on sale reflects criminal tastes; lots of
mountain bikes (many "as new"), Nike trainers (new, boxed),
jewellery and electrical goods such as laptops and iPods.
It's run on the lines of eBay, where you bid up to a closing
date. There are no minimums, so if no one else bids, the item is
yours for £1.
PC Tim Wills, who handles disposals on bumblebeeauctions for
Sussex Police, says it is not uncommon for bikes to go for under
£5. Guardian Money tracked some of the bike auctions last week,
and found many sold for £20-£30. The most sought after was a new
Giant Yukon bike, which eventually went for £105. That compares
with the £299 it retails for elsewhere.
Other lots listed this week included HP Laserjet printers
(several at £20), mobile phones (a Siemens S55 for £1, including
charger and manual), Nike Airmax Plus trainers (£5-£10, courtesy
of a particularly prolific shoplifter) and assorted packs of
batteries, razors and Oral-B toothbrushes from £1 upwards.
The drawback? You have to collect larger items from the police
force that's offloading them. In the case of the Yukon bike above,
that would have required a trip to Chichester police station in
Sussex. Only 10 of the UK's 43 police forces are on the site, so
large parts of the country are not covered. Smaller items listed
on bumblebeeauctions (such as trainers) can be posted to you, but
at a fee of around £14. You also have to sign up to the Nochex
PC Wills says: "It used to be the case that we disposed of
everything through local auction houses. But we've found that we
can make 10 times as much by doing it online. All the money made
goes to charity. It's just beginning to build up momentum at the
moment. The Metropolitan Police [not currently disposing on the
site] is in the wings as are many other forces. In truth, we've
got property stores which are full to overflowing."
Other police auctions
Those forces not using bumblebee dispose of property through
traditional auction houses. To find the location of auction houses
and the next sale, go to
police-information.co.uk, click "police links" and then click
For example, you'll see that Merseyside Police disposes of
goods through Hartleys in Liverpool, while West Midlands uses
Biddle & Webb in Birmingham. Many of the auction houses have
online catalogues where you can view lots on sale.
Police car disposals
If you really want a souped-up Vauxhall Vectra that has
probably thrashed a good few times, West Oxfordshire Motor
is the place for you. It holds two auctions a month of
"well-maintained" used police vehicles, with the next on February
9. Before going in for sale, the police strip the car of
specialist police equipment and the yellow markings. The police
don't put stolen vehicles through these auctions.
Ministry of Defence
A specialist wing of the MoD, the Disposal Services Agency, now
handles the sale of hundreds of millions of pounds worth of
surplus military gear. You can see what's on offer by going to the
agency's official website at
It's not just ex-military hardware; listings this week include
oak meeting tables, office workstations and long-life batteries.
But it's more like wandering round a warehouse in the hope of
spotting something you want rather than going on to eBay and
expecting to find the item you are seeking. More "mainstream"
items such as cars and motorbikes tend to be quite fully priced.
For example, edisposals.com is advertising a five-year-old Citroen
Xsara Picasso with 62,000 miles on the clock at £4,450, which
doesn't strike us as much of a bargain.
Ships, planes and vehicles
Yes, they're all on the edisposals site. But not being regular
traders in military hardware here at Guardian Money we can't tell
if the price is right for anyone planning a military coup. For
example, the "Cougar Enforcer is a modern, ultra fast,
surveillance and interceptor craft," purrs the MoD, asking for
£300,000. Budding James Bonds can view it at Rosyth in the
Scottish county of Fife - but by appointment only.
Army surplus clothing
The MOD site pushes buyers through to other online retailers
which sell genuine army surplus clothing. This ranges from assault
boots at £19.99 through to full body armour suits for £200.
But for an interesting insight into the underlying price of
clothing, go to
fieldtextiles.co.uk which bills itself as the "Textile,
Tentage & Camping Equipment Contractor to the MoD". The website
says it is "strictly trade only" but in reality anyone can buy -
so long as you're willing to place a minimum order of £250. You'll
find leather lace-up RAF shoes in packs of 10 (assorted sizes) for
£40 (equal to £4 a pair) and Hi-Tec trainers at £3 a pair. But
most people may find the army towels (50p) and blankets (£3) a
touch too uncomfortable for modern lifestyles.